Thursday, 16 April 2015

Hating the Haters

When Jason Guriel tweeted his unhappiness with the poetry reviews on Slate, Jonathan Farmer, the site's poetry reviewer, took notice. The result? A utterly fascinating—and pointedly diplomatic—exchange on the nature of reviewing:

None of your reviews, in and of themselves, are particularly egregious. As one-offs, they are clear and articulate, with stylish turns of phrase. But in the context of Slate – a magazine I go to for lively, feisty prose – your reviews strike me as, to quote the Tweet, "conspicuously safe," especially in the aggregate. You like a lot, but hate very little. When you write, "It's hard to resist, but it's also a stretch, this sense that if we can keep other people from loving what they love, we can get back to – or on to – something worthy of us, at last," I'm put on red alert and in mind of recent the debate about smarm, snark’s antimatter. Who's keeping anyone from loving what they want to love? Critics who steer me away from the bad (by acknowledging it) and towards the good are, in fact, teaching me how to love. In other words: don't hate the haters.
I'm not sure I can think of any examples of a review that feels legitimately skeptical to me, though I'd be very curious to read one. To expand on a point I made in an earlier email: I think there are all kinds of ways in which a poem can create value for someone, and very few of them do me or anyone else any harm. There are plenty of people who love a style of poetry that seems, to me, excruciatingly unambitious and aurally inert. And yet there are these large (at least by poetry standards) communities of people who are deeply invested in this kind of poetry. Are they deluded, ignorant, inferior? Maybe. Or more likely their needs are just different from mine. Either way, I think any attempt to say, publicly, that this has no value would have to reckon with the fact that so many people value it.

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