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

Michael Robbins

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

“The elucidation of works of art and the correction of taste”? While avoiding fixes et reçues. Except I don’t believe in the “correction of taste” part. Bad taste is taste, too, as Dave Hickey reminds us. But I can at least make the most forceful case for my own taste.

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?

There should be more honest reviews, that’s for sure. The critic’s motto should be Lil Wayne’s: “Fuck your feelings.” Yesterday I read this dumb music critic’s take on the dumb controversy surrounding Miley Cyrus’s appropriation of twerking. Miley Cyrus is a pop genius, and this critic rightly defended her against the usual identity-politicos. But his argument was that art is not produced by a culture, and that the individuality of the artist is paramount. This is reactionary bunk. The individuality of the artist is as nothing to the culture that speaks through her, and it should not be something the critic concerns himself with.

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

I return often to Johnson, Pound, Eliot, Jarrell, and Guy Davenport. A dull, or duh, answer, but true. An expanded list would include Blackmur, Dave Hickey, Christopher Ricks, John Guillory. I don’t know if Eve Sedgwick counts as a “critic,” but I’ve lately been fascinated by Touching Feeling. Intelligence, style, wit, fearlessness are the tools these critics share, and which I try to emulate—their aesthetic judgments matter hardly at all for me.

4.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 try to keep up.

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

Read as much criticism as you can before you try to write a word. Clear your mind of cant. If you’re still writing reviews for free after three years, give up.