1.Write a good book.
2.Write a better book.
3.Know your potential reviewer.
4.By “know,” I do not mean as a fellow human being, with whom you share loves, laffs, or even anything resembling commonplace collegiality. I mean grok. Do not send me, for example, a book of light lyric on the pleasures and pains of parenthood, unless your method of composition involved the use of a soft or flexible covering for the head and neck. Do not send the person on my left a book you are sending them because they are the person on my left. Do not send anyone anything that you have written but would never read. Walter Benjamin, a great reader of the great and the quotidian, felt that, “In the appreciation of a work of art or an art form, consideration of the receiver never proves fruitful... No poem is intended for the reader, no picture for the beholder, no symphony for the listener.” By way of comparison, Dorothy Parker, a great underappreciated reviewer of books, remarked of one book, “I read it all; but I found that neither during the process nor after did I care very much,” and of another, “Doubtless you have heard that this book is not pleasant. Neither, for that matter, is the Atlantic Ocean.” The tipping-point, then, would be Virginia Woolf, who once noted about the detail-laden scenes of Henry James: “Genius would have dissolved them, and whole chapters of the same kind, into a single word. Genius, however, is precisely what we do not find....”
For purposes of my point, Henry James did not know Virginia Woolf. Though she totally grokked him. This, of course, is the inherent danger—if you are insufficiently familiar with the review you might get from your reviewer, you run the risk of getting the review you deserve.
As a parenthetical aside to point 4, if we do know one another in what passes for personally, do not ask me to review your book. There are four reasons for this. First, I don’t want to. If I wanted to, I would have suggested it. There are reasons for my not wanting to that you do not want to hear. If you did, you would have asked a mutual friend what I thought of your book, and they would tactfully tell you. After discreetly gossiping with me. There are certain conversations that should only be had behind backs. Second, you don’t want me to. If we are to be friends, and at this point, it’s anyone’s guess, we must agree that I will misunderstand your work. By “mis-” I mean that I will not read it precisely as it has been written by you, and as you intended it for the anonymous me to read. Such are the mysteries of the erotic. Third, by offering it to me for professional contemplation, you have effectively killed whatever desire I might have had for the object. Karla Kelsey gave me that one. She is right. Would you like to have sex with my sister? Note that only by responding with “which sister” is desire properly returned—this is the difference between persuasion and obligation. Fourth, it is pathetic. If you are smart, and all your teachers must have said so, or why else are you here, ask me instead who should review your book—see point three, ante.
5.By “your,” as alluded to above, I mean which one of us do you see as most likely to appreciate the particular fruits of your particular labors. Are your poems, in other words, a clutch of apricots? If so, look to the right of me. Are they more like Cox apples, delicious, but seasonal? Then it’s Ray McDaniel, of course, or someone very like him. Think of us as existing within quotations, as points of reference rather than creatures with dreams. An apricot? Note there are five of us, one for each of the classical elements. I am for those who fancy their work either durian or desiccate, that is to say, somewhat quintessential, meaning constituent in its absence.
6.By “potential,” I mean dream on. You will hear dull stories about the surfeit of books and the attention deficit of book reviewers. These are true stories. There are things which pop up unannounced in my mailbox with the shining faces of children destined to be left in a dumpster. It is fate, and it is cruel. If it is your fate, you at least have the consolation of a quick dispatch, though, as these things go, always be happy with the review you do get. Remember that the reviewer is always right. This is because of point number 7, which will come next, but in a different context. Which is how a review is both given and received. In other words, whatever the reviewer says about your book is absolutely true in the context of that review. Someone looking for line-breaks pregnant with epiphanies or formal engagements flirting with the profound will be sorely aggrieved by my poetry. It is no one’s fault, but a matter of misplaced expectation, and its plump twin, disappointment.
You should know that every one who reviews books is told more than once by otherwise well meaning people with the self-satisfied air of those who unblinkingly live in better neighborhoods (and would advise you to do the same) that it is a mistake to review books, particularly books of poetry, as no friends are gained, but only lost, by such undertakings (buy, don’t rent). This advice is correct when one considers undertakings in the funereal sense.
7.Remember the book is an object. We have to look at it. Try to not have it be unduly ugly.
8.Remember that nothing is inherently interesting. By which I mean to say that while “nothing” is actually quite interesting, being the lack upon which we can all agree, there is no thing which has the same innate fascination. The death of my mother, while of great interest to me, is at best a matter of polite concern to you. A beautiful landscape, like the engrossing ascent to adulthood, lies in the eye of the beholder who is manifestly not the reader. I do not care with whom or what you conjugate, and your attempts to transgress seem but flesh piled on flesh, which I read with the sangfroid of a six-pack whore. Your political opinions are generally less persuasive by virtue of being cast on a page versus a placard, and one should always remember that right-justified is itself an aesthetic and ethical convention.
9.Remember who you are. Remember Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am.” Remember Lacan said, “I think where I am not, therefore I am where I do not think.” Remember Wittgenstein distinguished between the I as an object, and the I as a subject, which is an essentially linguistic distinction, such that: “In the cases in which ‘I’ is used as a subject, we don’t use it because we recognize a particular person by his bodily characteristics; and this creates the illusion that we use this word to refer to something bodiless, which, however has a seat in our body. In fact this seems to be the real ego, the one of which was said, ‘Cogito, ergo sum.’” Remember Lacan said, “Tell them I am Lacan.”
10.Remember that you are alone.