Knives out, ladies and gentlemen!

Going by the statistics that I get from this blog’s dashboard, the “On Formalism” post has been, by any measure, the biggest hit. It is Thin Lizzy’s the “Boys Are Back in Town” to the Cullen review’s “Cowboy Song”–even though I think the Cullen review is more important. Where “formalism” is concerned, I’m just one more asshole without a particularly fundamentalist position throwing few comments into a fairly tedious but perhaps necessary debate presently in its third decade. Catherine Ann Cullen, on the other hand, has a first collection out. Likewise, Gail White’s book, from a longtime stalwart of the “New Formalist” scene, strikes me as rather more interesting, too.

But we sure do like a controversy, don’t we–even when the thing is kicked off by a note saying that this reviewer, at least, is sick to death of the metrical verse/free verse thing being played zero-sum. And the Joe Salemis are as responsible for that as the Diane Wakoskis. And I suspect I’m far from the only one who feels this way.



  1. Rose said

    Good point! Some people seem to like sniping and squabbling and kvetching about poetry more than they like actually reading the stuff. Or maybe it’s human nature. I know I get like that sometimes.

  2. Conway, Jack said

    I love reading poetry (I’m reading three now: Tate, Merrill and Giovanni) but I think squabbling etc. simply goes with the territory. Talking poetry has always been a volatile proposition. I think it always will be. It is my impression that people who write poetry often have strong opinions.

  3. Quincy Lehr said


    Of course, and I’m not really casting aspersions. Rather, it’s that there is a sort of natural gravitation toward the familiar. To say that I’m full of crap on Sheehan, for instance, would require a basic familiarity with her work. Or White. Or Cullen. Or the other pieces slated to come up. It’s a bit easier tio stir up controversy over Giovanni, as the bulk of us have read her at some point. But the point of this thing is really to get at least a portion of the reading public to maybe track down a few books, buy them, and perhaps get cheesed off with my judgments (or those of guest reviewers). But one needs a certain degree of notoriety to become controversial, and the primary goal here is to give a modest degree of notice to what’s happening among book-published authors who may, at some point, be household names in the relatively few households where contemporary poetry is read.

  4. Jack Conway said

    I think that you might be facing the yin and yang of this small press book review business. First, since many people have not read the writer it is hard to analyze their work. So that’s one strike against the process. Secondly, if the reviewer is not well known then their comments might not be as well received.
    In other words readers must put their faith in reading about someone they have never heard of or read written by someone they hardly know. That’s an awfully tough sell, I think. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done — many hard copy lit mags make a go of it — but here on Internet Land — where anyone can be anything (See Wikapedia) I presume it makes it suspect and harder to engage an audience. But he limited coverage any small press author gets is good press, I think. So obviously have a go at it. And good luck.

  5. Rose said

    Yes, and include lots of excerpts. Maz used to say we should dispense with reviews altogether and just present a few sample poems so readers could decide for themselves. That’s maybe a little extreme, lol, but there’s something in that.

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