Friday, 1 January 2010

Poetry: Recommendations from 2009 (1 of 6)

Reviews are hard to come by these days. Fifteen years ago, my chapbook picked up half-a-dozen. When my first collection is published later this year, I'll be lucky to get one. The number of books being produced has increased. The number of publications featuring reviews has diminished. There are poetry blogs and internet sites a-plenty, but uncertain of the extent of their readership, a publisher is unlikely to send them a copy, especially in these days of print-on-demand when every book has its individual price.

This has exacerbated the bad practices that poets and their publishers get up to. Puff pieces are solicited from friends and acquaintances and quoted on covers and in press releases. Where writers don't have writer friends, they offer brown envelopes or sexual favours to get their hands on quotable copy. Writers review each other's work - log rolling - or mention their friends' latest in those end-of-year lists that plague the mainstream press and blogs such as this - back scratching.

I'm of the view that the roles of writer, editor and reviewer are separate and those who fulfill them should be distinct from - and unknown to - each other. Unlikely, I know, when writers often depend on media and editorial work to get by and readers prefer the views of a name they recognise rather than one they don't. Bizarrely, it is only in that least respected of poetry institutions - the open competition - that this is enabled - by anonymity. But with prizes being a useful plaudit on a writer's CV, even the ethics of those has been questioned, especially where screening is undertaken by those other than the judges themselves.

So let me be clear: what I'm about to write now are 'recommendations' not 'reviews'. The term 'review' implies a contract of objectivity between the writer and the reader. I've written 'reviews' for publications in the past, but always of writers unknown to me and whom I'm never likely to meet; where I've written about the work of someone I do know, I've described the piece as a 'feature'. I've encountered all of the six poets I'm about to commend to you at some time or another. Two are my good friends. And one is a sworn enemy. I won't be quoting from the work or summarising it in the traditional fashion, merely telling you why I like their books in my own way, no doubt digressing into anecdote just because I can...

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