My point is that suppressing the poems we don’t value by ignoring them or dismissing them out of hand diminishes poetry, simply because it reduces the scope and quality of our engagement. Further, it elevates gossip (and our social media interactions) to a bizarrely outsize station. I want to think that critique is essential, materializing in a deeper engagement that isn’t satisfied with a “good” or “bad” review. If Siegel and Garner are right (that reviewing is headed, like our glaciers, toward dissolution) then I reckon it’s up to us to find a way to engage in complicated ways about the poems that we care about, whether because they vex, surprise, anger—even bore, annoy, or seduce—us.
And it’s not that ignoring the work we can’t stand gives that work power and import (though it may provide that service too), but what’s at stake is that we’re wasting an opportunity to say what poems can or could do. And yes, the same goes for all that benevolent liking and hearting on Facebook and Tumblr and Twitter, as Silverman concludes,
A better literary culture would be one that’s not so dependent on personal esteem and mutual reinforcement. It would not treat offense or disagreement as toxic. We wouldn’t want so badly to be liked above all. We’d tolerate barbed reviews, some quarrels, and blistering critiques, because they make our culture more interesting and because they are often more sincere reflections of our passions.
Talking about the kinds of relationships we enter, Adam Phillips, in a recent interview in Bomb said, “there are large parts of ourselves that don’t fit into the available forms, or for which new forms must be found. We can comply and submit, or we can contest things.” Phillips is speaking more broadly here—and not about something like poetry criticism—but I do think it’s up to poets and critics to develop new forms to expand our understanding of poetry and poetics—something beyond the comment box and the Twitter feed. Lord knows, sending a simple questionnaire to a couple of dozen poetry critics is not going to evolve our practices overnight. Hopefully, though, it’s a start.