Friday, 7 January 2011

I'm right, you're wrong – it's Critics Week on the Poetry Bus


And don't forget your angry eyes...


I absolutely was NOT going to be on the weekly Poetry Bus this year! And then Kate Dempsey at Emerging Writer posted this trip's tasks (here) and what do you know... another bloody poem! And I should be getting organised for our HUGE, six month long 'trip of a lifetime' (see here... posts as we go...)! I should not be hanging around on blogs and writing poems! Anyway, enough exclamations.

It was the first task on the post that caught my eye – the one about responding to negative criticism. I wasn't going to talk about the matter below in public, as it were, but the prompt has pushed me to it. Let me give you a little background.

I put out a book of poems in 2008 (you can see the cover in the column to your right →).

You can still buy it by the way.

Anyway, I got a lot of really positive reactions to the book when it came out and if anybody did hate it (and I'm sure they did) they didn't say anything to my face or on screen anywhere obvious. I knew it was a bit different to many poetry books of our time (neither high art nor high performance, neither all serious nor all comic...) but I knew what I was doing – it wasn't accidental! As much as anything I don't see the point in putting out a book that's anything like anyone else's. As for the finished book... I guess you could call it either a mish-mash or an interesting tapestry (depending on your point of view) but obviously my intention was more the latter. I knew it wouldn't be everybody's thing but I was mostly OK with that. I mean what is 'everybody's thing', after all? Oxygen, water... beyond that the list pretty much peters out. Some people don't even like Morecambe and Wise (apparently). Fools.

But then last year some time (or possibly even the year before) I sent a copy of 'More about the song' to someone (who shall remain nameless here) for an online review. I had sent out review copies before and I'd had some good responses and a fair few no responses (the world is flooded with poetry books and self-published ones come fairly low down on some people's must-read lists but I knew that before I started). Even though I did have something like reservations about this particular site (because the reviewer in question seemed a bit snide, a touch full-of-herself and generally reminiscent of a primary-school-teacher-who-really-wanted-to-be-a-princess/professor/prime minister-but-didn't-manage-it-and-never-got-over-it) I still sent it off (my decision – only myself to blame!). Eventually she posted her review and, quelle surprise, it was nasty, nasty with more nasty on top. Mostly this taught me something I really should have known already - a person should trust their instincts. The gut rarely lies.

This (thankfully obscure) reviewer pulled me to pieces... she called my poems "unfocused", "meandering", "trite". Now I've had "trite" before (from magazine editors) and I have learned that most of all this means that the critic and I have totally opposing senses of humour (i.e. I have one...) and very different tastes in poetry too. The other two words though... "unfocused"? Really? No, I'm just not taking that one. I may ramble on here but my poems are totally focused (or, now and again, purposefully wanderful) and just because she didn't like them that doesn't make them woolly. And "meandering"? This made me wonder if she'd mixed my book up with another one from her pile. It just isn't that in any way. She also compared me to "that boring bloke I sat next to on a train once who insisted on telling me all of his poorly-informed opinions about things I'm just not interested in." Boring? Really? I have many faults (as a person... as a writer...) but I think that's the first time I've been called “boring” (so does that mean she took my "boring" virginity – how ucky).

Anyway. I didn't mean to mention it on here (too whingey, too predictable, obscure and well-known writers are always moaning about reviews) but when the Poetry Bus calls who amongst us can say "no thanks, I'll just stand here in the rain"? Sure the review bothered me for a couple of days when I first read it (but then my Mum had just died... I was bothered about lots of other things) and yes, I felt a little nauseous to begin with but that soon passed. I showed it to a couple of people, laughed about it... and then it was forgotten. Overall I was pleased how little it bothered me – after all most writers, musicians etc. (even the very, very best) have to put up with harsh reviews so it's just part of the process and everybody knows that so it's no big deal. One poet pointed me towards this song about critics. And this week Kate Dempsey posted Tim Minchin's reaction to criticism (which, I'm afraid, I didn't like too much... he can be cleverer...but I suppose that part of the joke is his silly response... in theory... it's the first clip on Kate's post). And now, thanks to the Bus, here's my little contribution (audio here). I think the focus of this one is fairly clear.


You think I stink

So, snooty snip, I give you pain
You would not sit next to me on a train
My work is everything you abhor
You spit out 'unfocused' and slide in 'bore'

Well, that's OK, you have your say
No-one reads you that much anyway
And if we should meet whilst out and about
You could bore me back tenfold, without a doubt



RF 2011


Now I must get on with some organising, packing and generally getting ready for flight. I must! I must!

Other poems for this week's Bus are linking now over here.

x

28 comments:

The Weaver of Grass said...

Have searched and clicked on all your links but I cannot find out where you are going and when and I DO want to know!!!

120 Socks said...

Your post was brilliant and your poem spot on! One more voice against negativity!!!

The Solitary Walker said...

Well, if you're boring, all I can say is that Philip Larkin must have hated light porn and the moon's made out of cheddar!

Helen said...

Love the poem ... tenfold with your voice!

Rachel Fox said...

There's a countdown to take-off on the new blog, Weaver. We go in just under a month. And we're heading west...

Thanks Socks. I can be negative myself so I'm not against all negativity (was I not being a bit down on Shakespeare's sonnets just the other week..?). I mean if we're all just positive all the time the world might get unbearably bland (mightn't it?). Really, as I said in the post, I intended to just let this review slide quietly by... but then the prompt appeared. It's all Kate's fault. I have not linked to the review or the site. Let her find her own readers.

Thanks SW. You're always there with a good word.

And thanks Helen. I like to put the audio on... partly to prove to the likes of Peter Goulding that it does scan right (in my voice and accent anyway!).

x

Emerging Writer said...

Thanks Rachel. I do love your definition of trite - the critic and I have totally opposing senses of humour (i.e. I have one...)
Get it off your chest! I'll post up the links on Sunday as I'm otherwise engaged tomorrow

hope said...

Don't you love how those who don't write like to sit back and offer, "Well you sensitive types are SO sensitive when someone doesn't like you."

Yeah? Wonder if they'd say that if someone smacked them in the face?

I applaud your courage to say what you think, when you think it and stating it exactly how you want to say it.

The world is full of critics...who I view as people who can't get a real job. ;)

Kat Mortensen said...

You're so restrained in your rebuttal which just shows how gentility is in you (and not in me). I'm afraid any poem I wrote about someone like that reviewer would be downright vitriolic (and most likely ineffective as a result). Yours is concise and clever and sticks the needle in just enough. I hope it felt really good.

(Have to admit, paranoia had me going for a second there, until you said, "Eventually she posted her review." Phew! Was thinking to myself, I never said I'd do a review, did I?"

Got your countdown in my reader now.

Kat

Peter Goulding said...

Oh dear, Rachel, seems like I might have offended you myself.
Everybody praises everybody else on here. I thought it might help to point out a line that seemed to jar. Obviously it has rankled. My sincere apologies.

Titus said...

'snooty snip' is so great!
Yay! Now get back to the planning and packing...

Art Durkee said...

I think it's possible to give a negative review as constructive criticism, and be neither nasty nor snarky. Although some people, it must be said, are just mean-spirited. I agree that trusting your gut is always a good idea.

Rachel Fox said...

EW - well, it's my definition of 'trite' for when it's used against me. It's not a word I use very much (though I borrowed it from the critics for a poem - here). I might use it for a cheesey rom-com movie or something.

I really didn't plan to say anything about this, Hope, and in fact I kind of wish I hadn't. It implies that it bothered me a great deal when, as I say, it really didn't after the initial 'ouch'. I am big and ugly enough to know that not everyone likes me or my ways. This person is one of those 'I know all about publishing' folk that you find online here and there. They are usually tiresome... if they really knew they'd be far too busy to be messing about online.

I used to write a lot of vitriol, Kat (see the writing section of my website!). I think I've run out of it.

Peter, Peter, you've taken my mention far too seriously! I don't mind at all when you question a line... it makes me go back and read it aloud again a few times. The thing is that usually I've read a poem aloud about a million times while I'm writing it... so one thing I'm fairly sure about is how it fits and sounds. I just thought one reason to post some audio is to help readers with different accents hear how my accent does the poem in question. There are lots of other reasons too of course. To me it is the sound that is most important really. I would love to hear audio versions of your poems - you know how English women love the Irish accent (and the Canadians too, eh Kat?).

Hi T and Art. Yes, I did accept this criticism - you can't send things out for review and expect all good coming back your way. She is entitled to her onion... I mean opinion. It bothers me a little that someone can misread me so hugely... take me seriously when I'm kidding, see as 'trite' something that for others works as it was meant... but there's nothing I can do about that. I've had far more positive reactions than negative and that helps me put this one away on a shelf where it belongs.

x

The Bug said...

I love reading a good comeback - I rarely come up with one in the moment so all of mine would be written down later :)

Why do people think it's ok to be NASTY, I wonder? It certainly says more about them than about you, that's for sure.

Rachel Fox said...

Well, except I was a bit nasty in the comeback maybe... most out of character... but I'm kind of joking... it's a bit of a play.

I suppose the reviewer would say she was just being honest. That's how she felt. And I asked for it...

x

Kat Mortensen said...

Ah yes! I would LOVE to hear Peter reading his work. I swoon for the Irish and English and Scots accents.

Rachel Fenton said...

Excellent riposte!

The review sounded very unprofessional - more schoolyard bully than literary critic.

Rachel Fox said...

Yes, Kat... we can hope.

I don't know about 'bully', Rachel. I am fairly sure that in a playground situation I could have had her, no problem (as it were). It's possible she's just one of those 'I know everything and these idiots need me to put them right' people (and I have my moments in that area too...). It may be the case that she saw herself too much in the book (but of course she wouldn't necessarily know or admit that!). Except she knows everything...

x

Liz said...

Nice one! You got it right on the nail...(both poem and lead up)

Rachel Fox said...

Oh, I still feel in a few minds about it... like I should have just let it lie... like I've been dragged down into the parts of poetry and lit.crit. in general that I hate (all the moaning and whingeing and bitching and telling each other what to do all the time)... like there is so much else to think and write about (never mind do)...

Still, it's done. One last gripe. I feel like I need to wipe my feet on a mat and go outside...

x

Niamh B said...

This is a gem. And I for one love the book, it's not one bit boring or meandering - rather an interesting tapestry, definitely.

Rachel Fox said...

Yes, it was partly her choice of attack that confused me a bit. I wouldn't be surprised by some criticisms (not that I'd agree with them but I could see why they'd been made)... but boring and all that - it just seemed off target really and certainly more a criticism of me than the poems somehow. Maybe my 'author information' bothered her. Maybe I was once rude to her in a social situation. Maybe she didn't like the font...

I keep saying I'll sort out a page with links to all the good reviews the book has had... must get round to that. Here are some links...

http://www.theskinny.co.uk/article/43140-more-about-the-song-by-rachel-fox

http://sorlily.blogspot.com/2008/09/life-has-been-rather-busy-with-little.html

http://cubaninlondon.blogspot.com/2010/01/more-about-song-review.html

http://jim-murdoch.blogspot.com/2008/06/more-about-song.html

http://johnbakersblog.co.uk/more-about-the-song-by-rachel-fox/

http://confidentwriting.com/2008/06/when-the-purpos/

Dick said...

There's criticism of the work and abuse of the person. We have to receive the former in good part, even when it's damning. But it's always puzzling when a reader resorts to the latter by personalising the commentary. Did you ever manage to track down any of her work? If you did I bet you found that it was self-aggrandising shite.

Rachel Fox said...

It has been pointed out to me that I have been less than kind about her person in this post too. Thinking this point through I considered changing the primary school teacher bit (to be mature?) but then I left it in the end. She gave me (her) truth - this is mine.

As for poetry... I went back to check her piece and it does say that she writes poetry (mostly bad, she says...). I have never read any that I know of. and who could be arsed at this point..? I'm far too busy polishing up my boring routine.

x

sunnydunny said...

I haven't come across this self-elected critic before, but the fact that she's threatening to complain to the ISPs of those who dislike her comments says a lot.

Rachel Fox said...

Yes, I saw that yesterday too, Colin (when I went back to check her wording on the hatchet job). I chose to just add one tiny (and very polite) response to her 'review'... I guess some people went more for the dog poo as email approach. It all hints of drama queen... 'all those terrible failed writers who can't take the truth I dish out to them' (not a real quote... more an illustration). Maybe one can suggest back... 'all these tired old bitchy reviewers who can't take the dog poo emails that they go looking for with their hatchet jobs'... (again, an illustration).

When I read the review again yesterday I remembered how in some ways I'd been pleased to have provoked such a strong reaction. That is one reason I published the book myself - with all the things in it that publishers (like yourself!) advised against - because I didn't want it to be another polite, correct, everything-in-the-right-place poetry book. I asked your advice (you and a few others) and then I made my big grown-up choice to do it my way and, so far, hers is the only horrible, mega-critical reaction I've had. It's not bad going all in all. And the more I read her... the more I know she's the kind of person I'm probably happily to annoy/bore. At the end of the review she says my book left her feeling 'faintly embarrassed'. The more I think about that the more I think 'good'. Making the uptight uncomfortable is fine by me.

Thanks for your comment, Colin. You're always a voice of reason!


x

Totalfeckineejit said...

Glad you caught the bus before you catch the bus/train/plane /boat!

Totalfeckineejit said...

Really comes to life in the reading too!

Rachel Fox said...

Not sure I want to go out on this note though! May have to ride another Bus to finish off heading in a more positive direction...
x