Show Your Work

April 12, 2009

Among the many responses to my essay on the Poetry Foundation website, one which disagrees in an extremely civil and articulate way is Craig Teicher’s, here on the National Book Critic Circle blog. He writes:

“In my view, a critic has three main jobs: foremost, to describe the work under consideration, meaning to figure out and clearly articulate what it’s intending to do and how.  Then, the critic has to make a value judgment, basically answering the question of whether or not the work succeeds in doing what it sets out to do, and whether or not there are other successes and failures to speak of.  This is important: criticism has to police the art form.  If readers—and critics are really just representative readers—don’t say whether they think poetry sucks or not, poems go slack.  Finally, the whole thing needs to be an interesting piece of writing, a work of literature in itself, albeit perhaps a minor one.”

My main purpose for the essay was to nudge critics more towards the first job he describes. I read a fair number of reviews, and I think vital aspect of reviewing is not emphasized nearly enough. My disagreement with what Craig writes above would be with his characterization of the importance of the second job of the critic. But I’m eager to talk it over more with him, and glad to be disagreed with in a thoughtful way.

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