Of Poetry Reviewing, and the Sea

Every now and then I’ve dipped
my toe into the ocean of poetry

reviewing. But I feel ill at
ease there, queasy, tempest-tost by

what reviewing does and doesn’t do.
Reviews think or feel with texts,

help us find ways into poetry
that we might initially find impenetrable,

or foster fellow-feeling (“Oh good,
someone else noticed what fascinated me!”).

Reviews are a cheat; they summarize,
letting us know “what’s going on

in poetry” at a distance, allowing
us to read-without-having-read

more books than we have time
or energy or courage to read.

Reviews amplify: they market: they create
buzz: they let us know what’s

what, what’s out there, what we
would otherwise miss. And with so

few reviews getting published, (with so
many books getting published), we miss

nearly everything. But so every book
review feels like a conscious decision

not to review every other book.
Reviews are not a zero sum

game, but every review, every amplification
I have written has made me

painfully aware of what I was
not reviewing, not amplifying, not promoting,

and not for lack of love!
(Some reviewers, however, champion certain books

in order to stymie other books
and prevent them from being amplified;

such destructive agonism mostly baffles me.)
But also: Reviews are texts made

writeable because of other texts. But
not all texts propagate other texts!

We might love those texts most
which inspire us to write least.

I used to (badly) photograph pages
from poetry books and post them

to Tumblr—only books I owned,
but not only books I loved—

as an experiment in reviewing, one
that was anchored in the ocean

of my experiences without being wracked
by my attention, my judgment, or

my ability to speak with them.
I’m not sure it was successful.

I’m not sure reviewing can improve
anything—and yet we miss nearly

everything. So reviewing is melancholic. If
this is a prelude to speaking

what some texts have encouraged me
to say, to amplifying some books

that I find myself able to
meaningfully promote, please remember: These words

that might happen to make waves
are the surface of an ocean

which teems and swells with life;
some I love but can’t speak