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
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.
Originally from the north of England, I live in Angus, Scotland where I walk a lot, think a lot, listen to lots of music, sometimes write poems, sometimes read poems out to other people, sometimes write songs, read all kinds of odd things, watch a bit...oh and I look after my family too.
I sometimes organise poetry and music events - details are usually here (though nothing coming up in the near future). This year I went travelling with my family - photos and notes are here. Now we're back I have moved to a new regular blog - it is here.
More about the song
You can buy my book (published 2008) from my website if you fancy it (go to 'book' page) or from www.amazon.co.uk if you prefer the comfort of the multinational corporation. My book is printed on recycled paper and card. I have 12 different poetry postcards available too.