Monday, March 20, 2006

Review VS Crit

I've had a realization recently. For years I've struggled with 'crits' that seem to have little constructive desire, while often tearing the poem or poet to shreds. As editor of the Writers Block I recently found one of these and deleted it instantly. It was so extreme, I didn't even bother to drop a PM to the writer, assuming he was simply spewing and not really involved - with us or his own spew.

However, the poster came back and questioned my action. This has led to some excellent discussion and also, happily, to my realization. His opening line was :

"My scathing review of Nag's dog balls poem has been removed."

And there it is - he was posting a REVIEW. Not a CRIT. This makes a big difference. A Review is about the reviewer, his cleverness, his wit, his ability to write reviews, his audacity, etc etc etc. It is not, directly, about the poem or the poet, does not directly attempt to help the poem, and in many cases is not even relevant to the poem but rather contains remarks that reflect the reviewer's view on current poetry trends in general. That's what this 'review' contained and the poster defends it along similar lines:

... fully 90% of everything created on boards is heaving swill. If poets begin with the proper choice of topic, if they act bold, instead of dog-balled ugly, they will at least have a chance to transcend the muck pool."

A reviewer's primary goal is often to gather evidence to support his point of (re)view. The unlucky poems that fit, however roughly, into this framework are hence hoisted and shredded.

Of course, in a workshop, poets are looking for Constructive Crits, something a review rarely offers. In a workshop, the poet needs to know what works, what doesn't, and why. Many want to learn: about grammar, about other poets, about styles and technique. Yes, it is possible to learn these things, and it is possible to learn them in a workshop.

I don't know how many times I've pmed a critter to say "If you don't like it fine, but explain what you don't like about it. If you love it, explain why. Dig in, show the bits that matter to you. "

Reviewer's are exempt from this. Whether they like a poem or not is moot. Their priority is always the review itself.


Blogger Bob Hoeppner said...

You hit the nail on the head, Jude. Many are reviewing, not critiquing, and it's all about them and their big or little expressions of contempt. Pretty soon the individual poem gets lost in a war over aesthetics and it all becomes very tedious and time-consuming.

Many reviewers can't get past it if the tone, subject matter, punctuation, etc. don't meet their ideas of propriety. And if there's a gaggle of such folk, even if they're well-meaning, it lends itself to writing poetry by committee, where if you don't sound like everyone else then you are an ignorant novice.

And then you have the situation where one critter likes Stanza A and hates B, but another (seemingly equally astute) critter likes B and hates A. That's when I say, "I'll just see how it works in front if an audience, and see what people tell me they liked when it's over."

10:39 AM  
Blogger Wrong Nation said...

I deal with playwriting rather than poetry, but I think that both reviews and criticism can have their valid time/place. It just is important not to confuse the two.

In theater, a reviewer reviews the finish product and tells a potential audience member whether it is worth the time/money/effort to see the production. The reviewer also might provide a context for enjoying the work (or not) and put the finished work in context with other finished works that are similar in their artistry or their content.

Someone who engages in criticism of an unfinished work is doing something different entirely. The goal here is not to be a "critic" but to help guide the author towards completing the work. To me, when I am criticizing an unfinished work, I am always aware that I'm not working towards a piece in my voice but in the author's voice. So my primary role is one of nurturing. If are approaches that might be helpful, it is not for me to tell the author to accept those approaches but it is incumbant upon me to help the author understand the approaches that could be taken. Then it is for me to let go, because ultimately it is the author's piece and not mine.

8:06 AM  

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