On Reviewing: derek beaulieu

I think it’s a poet’s responsibility to review books. As writers, we have committed ourselves to taking part in a dialogue, a discussion about art, and as such its our responsibility to review other books – to look at and write about other writer’s work – in order to further a discussion of the role of art. Reviewing books – poetry or prose – can expose new readers to a work, yes – but considering the ever-shrinking readership for poetry, and for book-sections (etc) in newspapers – but I think that for the most part reviews are aimed at other writers.Reviews have several purposes:

  • to contextualize a writer’s “output” (whether that be smallpress or not, text-based or not, performance or page-based) in their larger craft and within the larger poetic community
  • to discuss that “output” (we can use “book” here for ease of discussion) in terms of quality – is the book adding to the writer’s larger artistic concerns?; is it developing a space within the community’s poetic concerns? Is the book adding to the quality of work being produced?
  • And yes, to expose readers to a work they may have not otherwise seen – thus increasing the readership – the number of people that the book can dialogue with.
  • Additionally, a good review should either persuade a reader to either purchase – or not purchase – a given book.

Primarily I write reviews of work from the avant-garde and visual poetry communities – as these reflect my own poetic concerns. Reviews should not be written with an eye towards financial gain or remuneration. As writers we have chosen to participate within an economy which rarely is financially viable; we must be willing to participate within practices which are outside of “writing proper.” It is not sufficient for writers to work in solitude: writing is a social activity which includes reading and responding to other writers (reviews), correspondence and discussions (written or verbal: word of mouth is still the best endorsement), small press productivity (both as fertile gardens of unfinished work but also as artful forums for polished work), little magazine endorsement (for the same reason that small press is needed) and reading (both as performer and audience). 

Author of four books of poetry (most recently the visual poem suite chains) and two volumes of conceptual fiction (most recently the minimalist visual novel local colour). Publisher of the acclaimed smallpresses housepress (1997-2004) and no press (2005-present), and editor of several small magazines in Canada, beaulieu has spoken and written on poetics internationally. Toro magazine recently wrote “using techniques drawn from graphic design, fine art and experimental writing, [beaulieu] vigorously tests the restrictions, conventions, and denotations of the letters of the alphabet.” beaulieu’s  fractal economies (talonbooks, 2006) included a cogent and widely-discussed argument for poetry which worked beyond strict meaning making, pushing the boundaries into graphic design, gesture and collaboration. His collection of conceptual short fiction, How to Write, is forthcoming from talonbooks. beaulieu lives in Calgary where he teaches through the Calgary Board of Education and at the University of Calgary. He is on twitter at @derekbeaulieu.

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