Feminist Boot Camp #301: Don’t Fear Criticism

The veiled insult.

The I can’t find anything wrong with this book, but it stinks, so I’ll pepper it with backhanded compliments.

I’ll show those people who can really write (i.e. me, the reviewer, not this lame duck poet).

When people speak about negative criticism I am always a little cautious about responding. I’m never sure whether they are responding out of fear of someone shining a light down their throat, or whether they have no idea what they’re doing and can’t imagine defending their own work.

Probably the most infamous take-down in the last ten years belongs to Michael Robbins, whom we all know now as the author of Alien vs Predator. I made an offhand remark the other day on Twitter that no one had told Canadian poet Helen Guri that the way to ensure your first book is reviewed is to began a campaign a year or so before it is published, calling foul on your contemporaries and setting yourself up to be the next big important voice. I don’t think that’s what Michael Robbins did, but his take down of Hass certainly gave him a profile and piqued the interest of the boys who are always on the look out for a big voice that takes chances.

I don’t think these are new moves. The new wolf takes down the leader and so on…old as bones.

But I think that people who see Robbins intelligent piece on Hass as a model for negative are not reading the same essay. It’s blunt. It calls the poet out for his lazy habits–and provides evidence of this. It has fun at the poet’s expense. But I don’t get a sense of age-old agenda here. I don’t get a sense of grudge. Nor do I smell a whiff of mean-spiritedness. It’s funny, and thorough. It’s honest.


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