Monday, April 11, 2011

"Books are like people"

Parul Sehgal interviews Steve Burt for PW on the art of reviewing, and it is a good one:
Do you have a set of criteria that you hold all poems to–or do you think each poem demands/invents its own set of criteria?

“You must rely on each particular poem to show you the way in which it is trying to be good” (William Empson, Seven Types of Ambiguity).

On the other hand, “books are like people, and make the same demands on us to understand and like them” (Auden, An Outline for Boys and Girls and Their Parents). I want poems that instruct or delight, that do something new, that either compel, or invite, me to pay attention; when a poem seems to go on forever, to whisper inaudibly for a very long time or to shout without respite or to imitate somebody else in every particular or to tout banalities, I turn away for the same set of reasons that I would turn away when a person did so—though, as with a person, there might be good reason to overcome initial distaste.
I am slightly laughing at Steve's observation that he is at work on four books, but only slightly; a quick look at my sidebar will reveal that I have three on the go, and really I have a stealth fourth one too that is in competition with the ABCs of the novel for my chief intellectual attention (a little book on the battle of ancients and moderns - but first I think I should teach a class with that theme and see how it falls out).

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