Monday 22 May 2017

Old news: poetry and fisticuffs

So, our re-launch petered out briefly, but once again we start cranking up the engine and setting the hamsters loose in the wheels, out of sheer necessity to continue rolling through dialogues about reading and writing and thinking out loud at "the nothing that is" on the other side of our screens.

This initiating mess of a response, written haphazardly, semi-improvised, is an attempt to show ourselves to have one finger on the pulse, the other one up our nostrils, fishing for lost moments of adolescence. Abnormal service may or may not be resuming shortly, depending on astrological alignments, other workloads and how quickly the government decides to begin regulating internet freedoms and violating our free speech.

A morsel of news, then for our imaginary readership, (mis)represented by George Ttoouli.


Rupert Loydell recently reviewed Eyewear's Best New British and Irish Poets 2017 over at Stride. The opening salvo references an ongoing discussion of the use of 'best' to describe poetry--nicely summarised by Peter Riley in one of his Fortnightly Review columns:
"there is always a ready answer enshrined in the little word ‘best’, which is a mighty fortress against all accusations. You can’t complain about narrowness or exclusivity or anything. It is all down to the simple fact that these are the best. And when you’re busy identifying and promoting the best there is no other priority..."
Rupert's review is, well, very Rupert. Idiosyncratic, transparent, it is what it is. He skirts (somewhat lazily) around his poetics--bandying the word 'good' around after laying into superlatives--suggesting he likes surprises, and 'resistance' (borrowing, say, Adorno's term via Perloff) while detesting pedestrian poetry.

Then again, knowing how much poetry Rupert has read suggests he isn't an easy reader to surprise in the first place. Come on Rupe! No need to take their candy and punch their noses at the same time. But yes, I personally share the sentiment about reading: the moment something looks too familiar, my interest wanes. I think the statement warrants further exploration (but not here, not yet).

In turn, editor-in-chief of Eyewear, Todd Swift, has taken to social media to protest the brutality of the review. Todd's postings are, well, very Todd. And they have simultaneously brought the anthology to the attention of several thousand more readers than Stride likely reaches.

Todd is, if nothing else, an entirely effusive human, and he does exactly what a passionate, caring editor should: he defends his list with zealous fire. At my last count, two magazine editors have requested review copies as a result of his outburst.

Since last week, Rupert posted a response, along with a piece by Katrina Fish, in which she unpicks, almost word-by-word, one of Eyewear's tweets. Todd then posted a counter-response, defending his business model. Rupert has riposted again, this time referencing an email message from Eyewear with subject: 'legal warning'. ROFLOL.

Watching from the sidelines with our popcorn and liquorice rat's tails, we can't really confess to taking sides. Loydell and Swift are both admirable in their own ways. What's interesting, however, is how volubly people must shout when they're shouting in opposite directions.

Stride's position is that of the critic, and associates with the usual lines of debate: freedom of speech, subjectivity, etc. Swift's position is that of a publisher: you hurt my poets, you hurt me, you damage my business and my living, etc.

Some publishers refuse to engage with the critical debate, knowing all publicity is good publicity. Some treat these exercises as PR opportunities, branding their presses by responding accordingly with displays of community. The arguments get interesting when they start negotiating on each other's terms.

Perhaps the more pernicious position on the other side, at least from G&P's perspective, is one which treats reviewing culture as an irrelevance, existing solely to service the wheels of industry.
Lionel Shriver once said, "The only person who's reading the review with any intensity is the author ... and so, you take people's feelings seriously." This sounds very much like the desperate gasps of a culture choked by capitalism.

Virginia Woolf, among others, has linked literary reviewing to healthy culture in general (see, e.g. Hermione Lee's essay in Grub Street and the Ivory Tower). Obviously we have a tendency toward the 'critical reviews support cultural health' side of the divide; which is not to say editors should be discounted, but that they should take such opportunities as they come. That said, if anyone can arrange for a greased up wrestling match between Loydell and Swift, we'd be touting ringside seats and handing out ice creams.

There's a bigger discussion to pursue here, about the state of reviewing culture in the UK. With all the statistics now available through VIDA and the Free Verse reports, as well as the various other issues at stake in free democratic developed nations like... like... Iceland? - it's worth asking how much has changed, and it which direction are we headed? Here at G&P Towers we'll be discussing things further, possibly with a view to conversing publicly and democratically, but also with the intention of drinking ourselves into a stupor on our sofas, then drunk-emailing everyone who ever sent us negative reviews of our work, before spending the rest of the year in hiding.

Comments, suggestions, in the meantime, invited/welcomed, at least, superficially. In private, we'll be reviewing your use of grammar and drawing humiliating stick pictures of what we think of you, to pin on our office dartboard.