Evening Will Come: A Monthly Journal of Poetics (Issue 35, November 2013—Reviews Issue)

K. Silem Mohammad

1.What are the goals of the critic of poetry?

To come up with something to say that enhances readers’ understanding of, engagement with, and appreciation for the poetry. This could mean any of a great number of things, as simple as alerting people to texts and traditions they might not be familiar with, or as complex as deep cultural contextualization or syntactical analysis.

2.What’s your take on all the positive reviewing that happens of new poetry books? Is that a misnomer? Should there be more negative reviews?

Rather than thinking in terms of positive or negative, I want to see critical intelligence at work. Negative reviews can be just as superficial as positive ones. I consider a review good if it makes me think in ways I hadn’t thought to think before. If it just says “this is good/bad,” I’m not that interested.

3.What are other critics overlooking these days?

Maybe I just don’t know where to look for it, but I kind of miss formalist close reading: linguistic, structuralist, semiotic, etc. I like it when a critic shows me something measurable going on at the level of composition or signification that I would otherwise miss.

4.Who are the critics that you return to? Who do you wish to emulate?

First few contemporary names that come to mind: Christopher Nealon, Keston Sutherland, Vanessa Place, Craig Dworkin. I always return with pleasure to Donald Davie.

5.How do you handle what many have deemed a glut in contemporary poetry and how do you keep up with what comes out?

I don’t understand this. Do botanists complain about there being too many kinds of plants? Really, what’s the problem? You look for stuff you like, and you ignore the stuff that doesn’t interest you. There are a lot of different kinds of poetry, and no one reader is going to be interested in all of it. It’s the same as music. If I like 2 Chainz, I should probably also be familiar with Juicy J, Big Sean, Nicki Minaj, and French Montana, but I don’t necessarily have to bother with Panic at the Disco or Fall Out Boy. Of course it’s good to know that different approaches exist, but you don’t have to be an expert in everything.

6.What advice do you have for critics and poets new to review writing who’d like to get started writing book reviews?

Tell me something I don’t know. Make me spend time having to decide whether to agree or disagree with you.