Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Cleaning the kitchen floor and answering back

It's taken over 10 years but thanks to my work with the Open University I have access to online journals and I've re-discovered the review which inspired my poem 'Kitchen Floor' (from Woman's Head as Jug). I was reminded of the review (I never had a hard copy) when I went to talk to Martina Evans' Royal Literary Fund reading group a couple of weeks ago. It is always lovely to see Martina, a fabulous poet, and the group had looked at that poem in advance of my visit. 

Martina's most recent collection -
a brilliant read
Is it a feminist poem? I was asked. Not consciously, but it was written after I struggled to understand how another woman could write this: 

"Fever Tree is a perplexing choice of title when one suspects that the poet herself works up more of a sweat mopping the kitchen floor…..Wills has an impressive list of residencies and accolades to her credit. She also has her poems printed on paper napkins. What can one add to that?" Kate Keogan, PN Review (July-August 2004)

I've been doing quite a bit of reviewing myself recently, reading five titles for the forthcoming issue of The North and on the night of my visit to Martina's group, went to an event in which reviewing was also discussed. The debate didn't really get off the ground, but a fairly well connected critic (whose friends from the TLS were braying in public school voices behind me) suggested it was a good thing that certain brave young men were writing without fear about contemporary mainstream poets and were happily doing hatchet jobs.

Personally, I think space to promote poetry's rare enough without wasting it. The haters have sent me running away from Facebook and I suspect they're a lot to do with poetry's doldrums. 

So I won't review a book I can't find anything positive to say about. Or use the opportunity of a review to make a name for myself as I climb the greasy pole. Perhaps it's best to feel sorry for them, languishing in bitterness. Thanks for the poem, though, Kate. 

Tips for a review: 

Put a book in context
Attempt to understand what the poet is doing.
Where does it come in their writing history?
What are its strengths?
Read beyond the blurb.
Forget the blurb.
Read intelligently. 
Understand the title.
Resist cheap jibes.
Read in a spirit of generosity.
Don't review a book you hate.