Saturday, 13 December 2014

No Mystery

Danny Jacobs unpacks some of the qualities that make Anita Lahey's book of criticism, The Mystery Shopping Cart, so special:
Lahey rarely falls into the common traps of the reviewer: vague descriptors, scant quotation, goofy swagger, and forced conclusions that result when a stumped or bored critic tries to jam the square peg of a poet into the round hole of a preconceived poetics. The outcome is essentially jargon-free reviews that contain adept interpretations of representative lines. Lahey is confident enough not to equivocate; she gets to the heart of what a poet is trying to do, and with aplomb—all we can ask for from a reviewer. When she’s on, when her enthusiasm is palpable on the page, she has a way of getting at a poet with just a line, a meaningful summing up in a deftly worded phrase: “Davies has a convincing way of turning one thing into another simply by letting us in on the revelation-in-progress” or “Though it fumes, [Owen’s] poetry does more; it has become that finely wrought thing on the other side of anger: what we call art.”
Jacobs also singles out one of the book's most intriguing aspects:
Throughout the book, Lahey makes the peculiar and perhaps risky choice of adding afterwords to most of the pieces. These short additions, no more than a page (often less), may grate on some readers. However, the afterwords ground the book and serve to connect the pieces through a “present” voice. Among other things, they are background tidbits, asides, second-guessings and admissions. After her long essay on P. K. Page, she amusingly tells us that she “tried the glosa and failed. Tried it time and again, with godawful results.” She sometimes questions her reviews in the afterwords (“Was it fair to review Avasilichioaei’s first book alongside her translation of Stanescu?”): the present self reviewing the past self. The afterwords remind us that reviews (and our opinions) are hardly holy writ, a valuable lesson in a book of criticism.

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