The Sunday Salon: What I Don’t Review

Once upon a time, I made the naïve resolution to read more poetry and review it here on the blog. Surely, I thought, this will help me develop as a writer and a literary critic, if I can have a working knowledge of the current landscape of poetry. It would build character! I just forgot one thing.

I kinda hate modern poetry.

Okay, hate is a pretty strong word, but even modern poets I like tend to slip off my brain easily, while devastatingly gorgeous details found in novels stick to my heart. The only poem I truly love is William Butler Yeats’ “The Second Coming”, and the fact that I first heard it recited by Sendhil Ramamurthy probably has something to do with that—not only in the sense that Ramamurthy’s British accent is dreamy, but because poetry is meant to be read aloud and experienced aurally. So today I thought I’d talk about what I don’t review and why I don’t review it, if only to get my limitations out in the open.

In a fantastic article by Sam Anderson that examines the value of literary criticism, he quotes Martin Amis, who considers that when you review a book in text, you’re writing “a prose-narrative about that prose-narrative”. Texts influenced by other texts are explored by other texts. Intertextuality, even with casual texts, is an endless delight to me. It’s why I love reading books and writing about them; it’s why I proudly let the world know that I am a fan and consider my life richer for it. These texts are meant to be read, read with each other, read suppressing one text and purposefully searching for another… there’s just so many ways to get to the marrow of a story, you know?

But poetry and plays aren’t meant to be read—at least, not solely read. They’re meant to be spoken out loud and, more importantly, performed. As much as I love reading Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead (talking about intertextuality…), I love it more when it’s performed—if you don’t have an opportunity to see it live, I highly recommend watching the film adaptation starring Tim Roth and Gary Oldman. The choices taken by the actors and the director are part of the play itself; whereas a novel asks a reader to flesh out characters, a play requires actors for that purpose. (But perhaps I’m biased, what with being an actress and all.) And my experience with poetry, especially modern poetry (which tends to examine a subject from different angles rather than tell a narrative, in my experience), is much the same. I also think some of my difficulty with poetry comes from the fact that I’m tone deaf—while I can play piano and discern pitch (which all humans can; otherwise, Chinese wouldn’t work—the pitch thing, not the piano thing), I can’t discern musical notes apart unless I’m looking at a keyboard. Again, I’m a visual person, not an aural one. So the musical nature of poetry flies right past me, because I can’t link it up in my head properly without being beaten over the head with it.

So, ultimately, I don’t think I’m at all qualified to examine either plays or poetry solely as texts, especially wearing my Literary Omnivore hat. (It’s a fancy hat.) I can, feasibly, experience most of what a novel can offer by my lonesome; I can’t experience plays or poetry the same way. Now, I want to be absolutely clear—I’m not saying that book bloggers shouldn’t review plays or poetry. That’s up to them, and both are certainly, under the usual definition, considered literature as well as novels, novellas, and short stories. But I am saying that personally, there’s a specific reason I avoid them when it comes to this blog—I can’t offer the same quality and depth of analysis that I can for any given novel.

I managed to get through Lost in the Meritocracy and A Princess of Mars this week, and I’m less than a hundred pages from the end of Among Others. I’m thinking of reading The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian after it; I think I’ve developed a taste for pulp fantasy! I’ve also embarked upon a sewing project—namely, making Éowyn’s shieldmaiden dress, the cream gown and brown bodice number. I’ve the front of the dress done, leaving the back, sleeves, and the bodice itself to be done. (The bodice terrifies me. But no pain, no gain, right?) But it has to be done by Tuesday, since I’ll be seeing the Extended Editions of the films in theaters the next three Tuesdays of the month. And so it shall!

Alex Bledsoe is giving away a copy of his own The Hum and the Shiver until midnight tonight, so hustle! Kristen at Fantasy Book Cafe is giving away a copy of Deadline by Mira Grant until next Wednesday. The Baen Free Library is full of free downloads, including The Shadow of the Lion and On Basilisk Station. Night Shade Books is offering Butcher Bird and Grey as free downloads at the moment. Vertigo Comics is offering free downloads of the first issue of several series, including Fables, The Unwritten, and Y: The Last Man. (And you will go download The Unwritten.) If I’ve missed your giveaway or freebie, drop me a line!

What do you review or don’t review on your own blog?

4 thoughts on “The Sunday Salon: What I Don’t Review

  1. I disagree, re: poetry. I think hearing poetry read aloud – or even reading it aloud yourself – can be a very different and helpful experience than reading it silently, but I don’t agree with the notion that it’s “meant to” be read aloud. Certainly not the way plays are. But then again, while most plays are pretty indisputably written to be performed, I don’t see as much of a consistent telos behind the writing of poetry. Sure, you can read volumes upon volumes arguing otherwise, but that’s just my thing.

    I’m not questioning your choice not to review poetry, of course. That’s not mine to question.

  2. I’m not so sure that it’s you being tone-deaf, since I’m not a huge fan of much modern poetry myself, certain poets aside. I’ve recently read Jo Shapcott’s 2009 collection,’ Of Mutability’, and despite all the superlatives heaped on the book, I found it underwhelming. Reading aloud can make a huge difference to how poetry sounds, but I’d agree with Triplanetary that it doesn’t need to be read aloud.

    I try to review everything I’ve read, to a greater or lesser extent – it’s one way of slowing down my intake of books and minimising the amount of re-reading I do – though I don’t review books I re-read often or have previously reviewed (I know Fyrefly and Memory have done retrospectives, but their blogs have been going longer than mine!).

  3. I do think that I would rather hear somebody read or perform poetry. It’s hard to really get that same feeling that the poet wants you to get by just reading to yourself. I haven’t been book blogging all that long but I probably wouldn’t review poetry. It’s too difficult!

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