Saturday, July 02, 2005

A Philosophy of Poetry Book Reviews

I have never read a "complete" book review of poetry. Never. Of all the genres of books -- including novels, works of nonfiction, etc. -- I think that books of poetry may be the hardest to completely review. In fact, I have not yet discovered a way that any reviewer of poetry can efficiently write a "complete" book review for poetry.

That is because (I feel and, I'm guessing that most poets and poetry fans share this sentiment) each poem is a work of art in and of itself. Each poem merits discrete attention. Poems in the same book, by the same poet, can vary widely in content, substance, tone, length, and quality. They are often written in different years, serve different purposes, and perhaps most importantly, have effects upon the reviewer in different ways. To reduce all poems in a book to a generalization that constitutes the singular entity that is "a book of poetry" is quite difficult.

I guess my point is that the problem here is that book reviews of poetry cannot possibly cover every poem in the book (in theory, you could, though I've never witnessed it done in practice). Typically the majority of poems in a book of poetry are not even mentioned in the review.

In fact, most book reviews of poetry that I've come across follow the same pattern of making generalizations about the book of poetry as a whole, quoting passages out of several poems, and possibly identifying several additional poems as worthy of attention. But wait a minute here! -- just because you, the reviewer, have reasoned that three or four poems are of high quality doesn't necessarily mean that I, the reader, should conclude that the whole book of poems is of the same quality from your reasoning. The leap from three or four awesome/awful poems to an awesome/awful book should not easily be made.

I'm not saying here that poets and others should refrain from trying to write book reviews of poetry or that fun, entertaining book reviews of poetry have not been/are not being written. I'm just saying that such reviews are incomplete. And I'd like book reviews of poetry to be complete, or at least closer to complete, which is the main point of my making this post in the place -- to get people to think about it more, and to get myself to think about it more, so perhaps I may have less qualms about reviewing individual books of poetry by individual poets in the future.


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