Reviewing is hard work. This summer, I have two reviews of poetry collections to write. And while I've read both books several times already, I know I'm not yet prepared to sit down and do the hard work of forming my responses into well-ordered paragraphs. For me, reviewing poetry is a matter of letting the book wiggle its way inside of me, so that eventually I feel as if I understand the construction not only of the individual poems but also of the collection as a whole. We can call this way of understanding the text osmosis or a kind of trickling-down or meditation.
I also happen to be one of those reviewers who only writes about books I love or admire or from which I can learn. Poetry has so few advocates, I see no reason to pile more words on the poetry-sucks bonfire. If I can't advocate for a poetry collection, then I won't write about it.
Over the past week, I've been really grateful to read two brand-new reviews of Red Army Red. Jeannine Hall Gailey said very generous things about the book in the latest issue of Mid American Review, a magazine that first published the poem which concludes Red Army Red. And Michelle Chan Brown wrote a really thoughtful piece for Drunken Boat. I'm very grateful for Michelle's perspective, because she's the only other diplobrat-poet that I've ever met; like me, Michelle lived in Poland during the bad old days of the Eastern Bloc and can therefore speak with real authority about the specificities of the era and the landscape.
Let me repeat myself: reviewing is hard. It's an act of generosity and perhaps also of good karma. Reviewing--unless you're writing for a major newspaper or magazine--doesn't pay much. So, when busy poets take time away from their own poems to write something about another poet's work, it really means something and we mustn't take such generous for granted.