Monday, June 20, 2005

Reviews: My "Theory" of Poetry Reviewing Here

I never like it when people try to hide the ball about what they're thinking, so there won't be any ball-hiding here. So here are some quick disclaimers concerning my "theory" of reviewing Asian-American poetry here on this blog:

1. Very Wrong: As I've pointed out several times, I can be very wrong. You don't have to agree with me. You don't have to take any advice that I may happen to give. I'm not your poetry professor. This blog is all about persuasion, not coercion.

2. Fun: I don't want to become a babbling monkey-critic who remembers too many SAT words, has digested too many "serious" reviews, and is gunning for tenure. I want to be the hot host in the leather jacket at the beach party on a Saturday night (though, rest assured, I won't restrict my blogging to Saturdays alone). At least that's the intent. In other words, I don't want the reviews to be dull.

3. Common Language: Related to the previous point, I won't be trying to show everyone that I'm smarter than you. Sorry.

4. Pet Peeve: Comparing to Other Poets: This one is a pet peeve of mine. Pretty much every poetry critic does it, and I may do it from time to time as well. But I'm not a big fan of comparing, for example, Li-Young Lee to Walt Whitman. Basically, I don't think it says much of anything. So Li-Young Lee's poetry has some similarities to that of Walt Whitman. Whoopdee-doo. The main problem here is when a poetry critic goes overboard and tries to compare the poet to every obscure, or not-so-obscure poet, that he knows. Usually, the reader doesn't have the same knowledge as the poetry critic, so the only purpose is for the critic to show off. Even if the reader comprehends the comparison, however, it typically doesn't say much. The exception is if a poetry critic is doing an in-depth comparison of two particular works, devoting roughly equal time to each, which is different from my pet peeve and quite possibly worthwhile. Man, that was a long pet peeve.

5. Asian-American Poetry: This one is the wildcard. I'm going to *try* and tie back each poem to the larger idea of Asian-American poetry. Not easy to pull off, but we'll see...

Basically, I'm trying to develop my own voice and theory here. I figure that, if you're reading this blog, you'd like something a little different and not be bored. So I'll try not to bore here.


Blogger Bryan Thao Worra said...

Fair enough! My only addition would be: No pulled punches.

If a poem invokes a scathing review, so mote it be. I'm sure even Li Young Lee has written a bad poem or too, or at least one that pales in comparison to his other lights.

9:50 AM  
Blogger Roger Pao said...

Yes, and I should also add that I don't believe in the "objectivity" of the meaning of any particular poem in the sense that I think that there are multiple, equally plausible interpretations for most poems.

10:46 PM  
Blogger koobphong said...

Hmmm... a poem maybe "technical good" or "correct"... does that make it good?

what is a good poem? what is a bad poem?

Most poems I've come across are technically correct (no extrenous words, so forth) yet I don't consider them good b/c it simply doesn't speak to me.

Just a comment.

11:11 PM  
Blogger Roger Pao said...

Hey, thanks a lot for the post! I've blogged about and gotten into many discussions about a "good" poem vs. a "bad" poem, but I won't bore you with the details here. :)

Basically, just going to the basics here, I don't think that a poem is inherently good or bad. But I think that the "goodness" or "badness" can be justified, i.e., explained.

For example, I actually sympathize with your view that "technically correct" poems don't speak to you. That happens to me as well. But I think that if you think about it more, you can come up with reasons why a poem does speak to you and thus why it is "good" at least to you, which would further the discussion over poetry in general.

8:12 PM  
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