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Showing posts from November, 2015

The Perils of being a Poetry Critic

“Burdensome artistically, exhausting over time, damaging to one’s reputation, the source of rebuffs both private and professional … poetry reviewing is an enterprise only a few people do credibly or well”. So Mary Kinzie declared in a letter to Poetry magazine, around the time I stumbled onto this strange path of poetry reviewing, nearly a decade ago. It’s a nifty quotation, and one I’ve gone back to over the years. The hours are long, the rewards are poor, and your typical response is the indistinguishable silence of the indifferent, agreed and aggrieved. That, and the occasional feeling – after a ‘mixed’ or ‘negative’ review appears in print – that somewhere out there, your name is being scribbled in a black book. If you’re really lucky, the poet in question – or their partner, or colleagues, or friends – may even take to social media with brimming ire. (Poets are ‘the irritable race’, as Alice Fulton once quipped.) Why bother? Why on earth did I start penning these things?

Because I…

"Hymns to intimacy": Andrew McMillan's Physical - review

‘What is masculinity if not taking the weight / of a boy and straining it from oneself?” In “Strongman”, Andrew McMillan takes his young nephew’s playful request to “benchpress him” like “his mother’s new lover can” as an imaginative springboard to some urgent personal and social concerns. It is typical of the poems in Physical. Adept at finding the surreal in the everyday, turning an ear to the lilt of conversation alongside serious (but rarely solipsistic) reflection, McMillan’s verse worries away at what it is to be human, to feel through both the flesh and our emotions, to lose and to love, but most of all, what it means to be a man. In his delicate, frank and piercing interrogations of maleness, this is a poet who looks to assess the state of modern masculinity. He does so in ways that few others currently writing are either willing or able to.

“The men are weeping in the gym / using the hand dryer to cover their sobs”, begins one grimly comic dissection of male anger and anxiety:…