I’ve now been reading a book of poetry a day for over 100 days, and an update on the project is long overdue. I’ve been more consistent than I expected, catching up quickly when I lag a day or two behind (like now). The 140-character review quickly led to my addition of its 140-character excerpt counterpart, in which I try to allow—as much as possible—the poets’ work to speak for itself. In practice, it’s nearly impossible to generate anything more meaningful than a back cover blurb. (Kwame Dawes suggested the experiment would be excellent training for a future career as book blurber.) 140 characters is just enough to comment on a book in most general sense or to comment on one more specific feature, seldom both. Likewise, it’s nearly impossible to include both the positive and negative aspects of a work.
What then, is the value of the Twitter review? It is, I suppose, the value of a single, hopefully singular observation about a book of poetry. The relationship between criticism and marketing is ever murkier as both move online, and the Twitter review can be viewed as a subversion of a social marketing application for the purpose of social criticism or as a corruption of more traditional criticism for the sake of marketing. More realistically I think it is probably something of both.
While I continue this project I hope to write more, citing specific examples from actual tweets to demonstrate the difficulty and nuance of the task. In the meantime, I’d like to introduce next week’s selection of books. During my processing I began to wonder what it would be like to review a book that I knew more intimately than one I had just read that day—as that is, especially for a poetry review, somewhat of an unusual time constraint. So rather than choose from the new collections I gratefully receive from their publishers, I decided to select a week’s worth of collections I know well. These have been selected arbitrarily, from a single shelf in my office, and don’t particularly represent my taste beyond the fact that I own and have read them at least once. Though most of these poets are American (most men, most white, as well), I suggest that the diversity of the greater list, available here, better reflects the international character of Molossus.
Here’s the list of old friends:
136. Time and Materials, Robert Hass. (Ecco, 2007) $22.95
137. Without, Donald Hall (Mariner Books, 1999) $13
138. On Purpose, Nick Laird (Faber & Faber, 2007) £9.99
139. What the Living Do, Marie Howe (W.W. Norton, 1999) $11
140. the book for my brother, Tomaž Šalamun (Harcourt, 2006) $16
141. Rose, Li-Young Lee (BOA Editions Ltd, 1986) $14.50
142. The Singing, C.K. Williams (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003) $20
Thanks for following Year of Poetry on Twitter and Molossus. I’ll continue to discuss the project here in the near future.