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How to Review Poetry

February 18, 2012

This isn’t a guide, actually.

Because I don’t think I know how, myself.

I like to think I have a good amount of poetry cred. I was skittish about studying poetry in school- though I wish, now, that I’d taken poetry classes in college, I did take a few after college. Including a really interesting one-on-one master class with Dean Young, through Gotham Writers.

And now, I have an internship at the Poets House.

I may have more bookshelves devoted to poetry than to any other genre. Four shelves in my apartment. And that’s not counting the literary journals.

Now that I am in school for library science, I’m finding my way back to reading poetry again, remembering how good it feels to sink into the enjoyment of a poem. Part of this is rebellion against some of the academic reading and writing (yikes, the writing!) I need to get done. And part is that I do genuinely enjoy poems.

I understand how to review a work of fiction or nonfiction. I feel comfortable summarizing and evaluating how the narrative worked. Even, recommending it based on similar books.

But poetry? It’s subjective, and it varies so much based on mood. I read poetry to sink into its loveliness. Sometimes to admire the structure. I don’t have the same faith that I do about prose, that I can really evaluate what makes a poem or a collection work.

I can gush about poems and poets, sure, and… I guess I could share that delight.

I have, over the years, adapted ways to explain and introduce poetry to people who are new to it. Shelving books at the Poets House reminds me, though, that I am by no means well read. I have a handful of poets I read obsessively. And hundreds I haven’t read at all.

I’m not sure I have the right mindset to review poetry.

Might be a work in progress.

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