Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The Philosophy of Poetry Snark, Part I: First Book Poets

The standard operational procedure with reviews is to leave bad first books alone. The bad stuff will be forgotten on its own, the argument goes, and it’s not particularly helpful to be discouraging to young poets. As you might have guessed, we here at Poetry Snark disagree. Some young poets could use a little more discouragement. Many are doomed to a dismal life of failed expectations—the decades-long wait to climb out of the obscurity of a benefitless, low-paying adjuncting gig; the discovery that second books, because not as broadly funded by contests, are often more difficult to publish; and the sheer anonymity of being one of the great mass of contest-sponsored first book poets to be shored against the ruins of academia—these things must be hard for a young person to endure. Poetry Snark would spare them the agony by letting some particularly odious first book poets know that they really ought to pack it in.

But it is more than just charity to these young versifiers that motivates us to thrash their fledgling collections. The other reason why we will be instituting a series of first book snarkings and roastings relates to our philanthropic desire to heal the tepid atmosphere of contemporary critical reception. If we don’t tell the truth when poets lay a rotten egg of a first book, how will readers know when a real golden hen has arrived? How, in short, can we trust discourse that holds “niceness” as its highest value? If everything is good, nothing is truly good.

What few bad reviews are actually written these days are done so out of mere partisanship. An “experimental” poet aligned with this or that herd of avant-gardists may, on occasion, lay into their ideological opposite. Likewise, Adam Kirsch or one of the white guys at Poetry may occasionally lay the strap to someone they deem too obscure or post-modern. This is nothing but another form of the mindless trench warfare that I described in a previous post—the lame resurrection of poetry wars of the 50’s and 60’s. As always, we here at the Snark are a strictly non-partisan operation. If a “new formalist” drops a stink bomb, we will snark it; if a denizen of cave LangPo crawls out to plop a turd, we will snark. Agent Trochee has a particular aversion to new confessionalism and multy-culty charity cases, so we’ll probably sick him on those toadies. We promise to move continually between approaches and schools, and if we seem to be showing one particular bias, we are counting on you to keep us in line in the comments section. Use this thread to suggest first books that you’d like to see us put to rest.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Geoffrey C. O'Brien could use a good snarking. The Guns and Flags Project really bites.

5:31 PM, May 17, 2005  
Blogger Adam Hardin said...

Tessa Rumsey

Katy Lederer

Steve Healey

Monica Ferrell

Daniel Nester

Patricia Ferrell

Cort Day

Rebecca Wolff

All these poets will never on this earth write anything that resembles a memorable poem.

God, Almighty, Please, strike them down.

9:26 PM, May 17, 2005  
Anonymous Tuesday Boy said...

Plasticville, by (who was it?) I think somebody named Trinidad... David maybe? Don't remember but that was the stupidest book I've ever looked at.

11:03 PM, May 17, 2005  
Blogger henry dagger said...


ye know not what awaits ye if ye've words with Dagger. bring them to me own site & spare these people what shall surely follow, ye wretched ignoramus, ye savagely idiotic prick. if ye need a spelling lesson I'd be happy, aye, overjoyed to provide it, laddy. say with me, then, "y-e k-n-o-w n-o-t t-h-a-t o-f w-h-i-c-h y-e s-p-e-a-k."

6:40 AM, May 18, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How about Katie Ford? Eh?

7:41 AM, May 18, 2005  
Anonymous Arthur said...

Adam, I too dislike many of the poets of your list of those who according to you "will never write anything that resembles a memorable poem." But what the hell is your problem with Monica Ferrell? Unlike the rest on your list, the girl hasn't even published a book. Poems by her do show up from time to time in journals, but she hardly stands out from the hundreds or thousands of other pre-book poets also muddling along through the journals. She's definitely not famous enough to be doing any damage to American poetry or the book publishing scene (which she isn't even part of).

You do this AND start a whole thread on Foetry attacking this no-book poet. This sounds increasingly like some personal and slightly creepy obsession of yours---more in the tradition of stalking than of poetry OR poetry-snarking. What's wrong? Did Monica Ferrell turn you down for a date? Why don't you turn your sights onto larger targets and get over your fixation on some poor girl that the rest of us have barely heard of?

8:15 AM, May 18, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This one isn't well known, but Tung-Hui Hu's "The Book of Motion" is truly aweful.

11:04 AM, May 18, 2005  
Blogger Jonathan said...

If everything is bad, everything is equally bad. If you start off with the premise of snark, your snarking of any particular book will blend into the background.

11:28 AM, May 18, 2005  
Blogger Adam Hardin said...


None of this is personal, but it is all necessary.

11:41 AM, May 18, 2005  
Blogger Adam Hardin said...

Let me make you conscious of this.

Right now there is a major cultural shift that is begining to crest to the literary world, and I see this shift happen over the next five to ten years. It will be the shift away from the detached, whitey-white, ironic, fluff that is plaguing our poets and novelists back to the serious, weighty, relevant, culturally conscious, controversial works of literature that have been a hallmark of the past.

This is happening right now. This will be the rebirth of American Literature.

1:14 PM, May 18, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you mean like the kind of bullshit you write in comment fields in blogland? are you the fucking soothsayer of the all lit? you really think you know the landscape, little lamb? you must rage at night watching the hollywood gossip shows.

why don't you go write a fucking book about it Hardon. Why don't you bomb the AWP. You're all bark and no bite. You and your sandwich boards. Why do you give such a shit about what other people do? Why? Have you not figured out that little life lesson yet?

2:54 PM, May 18, 2005  
Blogger Snark said...


Poetry Snark does not contend that everything is bad. There are poets who I will not snark because I am less inspired to do so. You can assume that the poets I choose to snark are ones that I find more odious than others. Poetry Snark is non-partisan. We find terrible poetry in all shapes, sizes, periods, and schools, and we make a conscious effort to spread the snark around (we are democrats of snark). You want us to name a positive value? We believe in iconoclasm.

Poetry Snark does, however, believe in snark for snark's sake--that is to say, snark is its own expression, and we will reward good snark no matter what its object. Poetry Snark is not here to praise: there's enough of that going around already. We are here to counter the cult of niceness that renders so much of the current poetic climate untrustworthy and insipid.

4:41 PM, May 18, 2005  
Blogger Agent Trochee said...

whoever Anonymous is, that person has got something right: AH with his "Death of Literature" is so much bluster without any blowing power. all the concrete is in his boots, we ain't coming, and, to make it worse, the bath water's gone cold. sounds like Daam Softon to me. give me a man who can throw words like brick that, instead of knocking my ass out, fall into a neat arrangement making a place where i can enjoy myself and realize that this strong house of rhetoric is only empty when there is nothing to put inside it. what we need is a furniture sale. this lightbulb needs to shine on something. shiny shiny shiny boots of leather

5:31 PM, May 18, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

agent trochee makes me horny when he starts singing vu.


12:37 AM, May 19, 2005  
Blogger Jonathan said...


I'd be the last person to deny the pleasures of snark, not the least of which is a certain Schadenfreude. That is, one can always take pleasure in the fact that it is not oneself that is being snarked, until one's own turn comes along. I just wish the snark here were a little more literate and not so anonymous. Even William Logan signs his own reviews. Yes, there is an insipid niceness in contemporary poetry, but I'd have to say the "cure" might be almost worse than the disease. Positive commentary on poetry that you feel less "inspired" to trash would have a better effect than going after some poet from the 70s that nobody has even heard of.

8:31 AM, May 19, 2005  
Blogger Snark said...


You make fairly reasonable points, so I'll respond again. First of all, William Logan is barely literate and so partisan as to be worthless (he is the Bill Frist of poetry reviews).

The 70s poets series is just for fun. I thought that was obvious. I don't pretend to any corrective work with those.

Some of the posts have a real point behind them. You can take it or leave it--or you can snark me or critique me in the comments section. We welcome all snark.

Regarding anonymity: Poetry Snark contends that the right to anonymity is the corrective to the cult of niceness. It is only in the 20th-century that signing one's name to literary reviews became the norm. If you take the time to look back to previous eras--times when poetry enjoyed a healthier relationship to public audiences and a more prominent cultural role--you'll find that many, many reviews were anonymous. In some of the snarkiest and best journals, like the Edinburgh Review (our favorite), most reviews were anonymous. Also, the stakes are pretty low here: nobody sitting on a tenure committee or with their hands on the grant money is going to take a blog like Poetry Snark seriously. And unlike Foetry, we're not making serious accusations about ethics violations or attacking peoples' fundamental characters.

Relax and enjoy the snark.

12:40 PM, May 19, 2005  

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