introducing readers to writers since 1995

November 20, 2004

How to Review Poetry and Poetry Reviews

by Ron Hogan

It's hard to be 100 percent objective about David Orr's review of The Best American Poetry 2004, since Beatrice owes about half of its current audience to Orr's positive appraisal of this blog for NYTBR in October. Having made that disclosure, it's damn near about the most perfect review I've read in a long time, laying out the longstanding critical controversies surrounding the Best American Poetry series and the merits and flaws of the poems in this year's edition in a clear, orderly fashion that continually relates the issues raised to the text under consideration. If you don't know much about poetry, you'll feel honestly educated after reading this piece.

Times film critic A.O. Scott delivers another fine piece in the same issue on the latest book of essays by Dana Gioia. It's a pan, but as Scott outlines why he thinks Disappearing Ink is "disproportionately loaded with abstractions, cliches and nuggets of wisdom so uncontroversial as to be inane," he uses a close reading to make a calmly reasoned case for Gioia taking all the excitement out of poetic criticism with his "almost desperate attachment to conventional wisdom." And though he finds the book "pretty much useless either as cultural analysis or as literary criticism," he does at least give Gioia some degree of credit for broaching some interesting topics; he just wishes Gioia had actually done a little bit more than merely broach them.

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