Some Final Thoughts on Shroeder, Vargas, and Reviewing

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returned tonight from my reading in kansas city–am still uploading the photos so will blog on the event soon. for now, just wanted to post some final thots on reviewing.

having re-read shroeder’s review, i find it to be fair. obviously, any review taking on two books will overlook certain aspects of both books, but shroeder’s take seems like an honest assessment of his criticisms & appreciations. the only major flap i find in the review is the sentence: “Much of Vargas’s work shares a third-grade boy’s fascination with, and vocabulary for, the penis.” this is supposed to be humorous, but reads more like a cheapshot. it should have been rephrased. and even tho i parodied vargas’ response, i understand the desire to cheapshot back. whatev. i’ve given and taken cheapshots and learned my lesson. enjoy the extra attention and move on.

what i do find ridiculous is the insinuation that either shroeder or the latino poetry review had some kind of destructive agenda. clearly, the only agenda of LPR is to increase critical discourse on latino poetry. schroeder’s agenda, i’m guessing, was simply to review vargas’ work.

great dialogue around this subject has occurred at barbara’s blog here. great to see sheryl luna comment on barbara’s post, especially since sheryl (besides from being a great writer) is a wonderful reviewer.

while i agree with most of what she writes in the comments, i am curious about the question of “young inexperienced poets” and/or “poor poets” (as in poor in quality) writing reviews. personally, i never judge a reviewer by the poetry they write. an awful poet can write great reviews (like me!) and a great poet can write awful reviews (like me!).

second, i think we need to encourage “young inexperienced poets” (like me!) to write more reviews. why? one reason is because mature experienced poets rarely write reviews. let’s face it, the more books a poet publishes the fewer reviews they write. another is that these young inexperienced poets need the experience of writing/publishing reviews so that they become experienced reviewers and better poets (that is, until they become too mature to review).

so what can be done to encourage these poets to write reviews?

one reason i often hear as to why many poets dont review is that they are too busy teaching. one beautiful response to this dilemma that i heard recently from a poet i really admire is that she requires her creative writing students to write a book review as part of their class requirement. the students find review lists, query journals, practice their critical reading & writing skills, and try to publish in whatever journal they chose. plus, they get a free book!

even tho these reviews are by inexperienced writers, i imagine–that with their teacher’s guidance–their reviews are honest engagements with the text. now imagine if creative writing instructors across the u.s. required their students to do this. hundreds of reviews. and even if the students feel intimidated to publish their work, we can point them to the editing work of eileen tabios at galatea resurrects, who encourages many dif kinds of ‘engagements’ from experienced reviewers to her own mother (i personally really enjoy her mother’s reviews). this would also give many writers a sense of how students and other ‘inexperienced’ individuals read poetry–an insight we can all learn from.

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10 thoughts on “Some Final Thoughts on Shroeder, Vargas, and Reviewing

  1. If that one guy is "white"
    and the other a "Bukowski"
    who is the Rod Mckuen of identity politics?

  2. Good to hear your thoughts on this, Craig. One thing I've been having conversations about is the so-called "negative" review which I believe can still be written with thoughtful consideration for the work and its contexts.

    I come to realize that even constructive criticism can be hard to take when it's one's own book that is being scrutinized, such that anything in addition to the criticism is salt in the wound. You mention the "cheapshot," which I'll just call a tone that could be done without, especially if the reviewer is already making his/her case without said "cheapshot."

    Now, as for the "young, inexperienced" writer writing reviews, I agree with you that experience is to be gained here, in learning to write reviews, because in the process, the writer is also in the process of learning to read poetry. It's great to hear that this one educator has made book reviews assignments for her students. I think when we are writing papers about poetry, isn't that one way of approaching the review? I mean, minus excessive academic speak.

    wordver = sthingle!

  3. Robin Becker, who teaches at Penn State, teaches a course to her poetry grad students there that is exclusively on poetry reviewing.

    Because LPR is, officially, a Notre Dame publication, it strives to engage those students, such as Todd Thorpe and Heather Treseler in the current issue, but LPR wouldn't rule out trying to tap graduate students, such as Becker's, to contribute in the future.

    And yes: one's perceived competence as an artist in no way predicts, in my view, that person's attributes as a critic.

    The late Guy Davenport comes to mind…

    Thanks to you both (Craig and Barbara) for these discussions.

  4. b,

    def agree about the 'negative' review–as long as it's fair in terms of thotfully considering work and contexts, i have no problem either. of course, this is always hard for any writer–but now with blogs and facebook, it's so easy for a writer to voice their objections, like vargas did. thus, there are real consequences for a reviewer who isnt thotful about their critique. sthingle!

    c

  5. f,

    a course on book reviewing sounds amazing. all mfa/phd programs should do this! this couldve really helped me.

    that would be a cool engagement with LPR…an entire selection of reviews from a specific class.

    thank YOU!
    c

  6. Hi Craig,
    I wrote reviews when I was a graduate student and there's nothing wrong with it; however, for myself, I don't listen to a reviewer who seems to write poorly or reviews a book of poetry positively that I deem quite terrible.

    It is an individual process book by book.

    Finally, I'm glad to see Francisco has acknowledged Paul Martinez Pompa as winner of Andres Montoya Poetry Prize.

  7. Oh, I forgot to say I had said "agressive" reviews in the comment on Barbara Jane's blog, not reviews in general. I just wanted to clarify that.

  8. Hi Craig:

    Thank you for the fair assessment of the review and response. I certainly hope a few more people will read Vargas' poems as a result.

    Best,
    Steve

  9. hey steve,

    thanks! as for me, i certainly dont give a damn if anyone reads vargas' work.

    c

  10. hey sheryl,

    thanks for clarifying! yes, 'aggressive' is a loaded term–hopefully more folks will be like you and review.

    take care!
    c

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