Friday, 1 April 2011

Mixed Reviews

Of course, one wouldn't expect all the reviews of a work to agree. What's interesting is in what ways they differ. For example, sometimes critics may disagree over whether a work is good while agreeing what criteria are appropriate. I've already written an article about Mixed Reviews in general, and I sometimes (e.g. with Landing Light) try to compare reviews of a particular book, but now that 3 reviews of my Moving Parts pamphlet have appeared (and I've unearthed a review I wrote), it's time to re-visit the topic. What I noticed was that

  • No-one mentioned the blurb or acknowledgements
  • No phrase was multiply-quoted, though "Windmills" (perhaps the weakest poem) was quoted from twice.
  • "abstract[ion]" appears 6 times. The main issue seems to be whether the "abstract" is sufficiently balanced by the concrete or emotional, and whether the juxtaposed or paradoxical parts are resolved.

HappenStance have a multiple-reviewer scheme - the online description gives you the idea. I suspect that knowing they're not the only reviewer makes the reviewers more likely to say what they think.

More generally,


  1. Hellooo - question. The blurb and the acknowledgements are not part of the creative work. So why would they be reviewed?

  2. "... So why would they be reviewed?" - they often creep into reviews though, so I was a bit surprised that no-one mentioned science/computing or the [vint]age of some of the pieces.

  3. I guess most reviews just concentrate on the work in question - and the reviewers draw their own conclusions -if the science/computing aspect hasn't hit reviewers, maybe it did not strike them as relevant. That in itself is interesting, I guess.

  4. It's interesting that the quotes were from the poem that you considered to be the weakest - could it be that readers view this as the strongest? Or is it that it somehow the most quotable? I haven't so far mentioned the blurb or acknowledgements of any book that I have reviewed but I do look at them - normally after I have read and nearly finished the review - they can often give an insight into whether you have understood the work in the way the author intended - for instance I recently reviewed Michelle McGrane's "The Suitable Girl" for Ink, Sweat and Tears and I had written that I thought her work was influenced by writers like Pascale Petit, Helen Ivory, Vicki Feavor and Carol Ann Duffy - when I looked at the acknowledgements three of the poets I had mentioned were there!

  5. Julia, it was difficult for me to assess the poems (some were 15 years older than others), which is why I mostly went with the editor's opinions. Maybe the Windmill poem isn't soooo bad. I tend to ignore the blurb until afterwards (and wouldn't usually mention it in write-ups), but I at least glance at the Acks first. In my case all but one of the poems were pre-published - the booklet was an anthology of UK magazine poems, sort of. Some poetry books (and not just by younger poets) have skimpy Acks nowadays.