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Chris Jennings’s shoddy review of Michael Lista’s Bloom

Several posts ago I trained the heavy artillery on Chris Jennings’s ARC magazine (Winter 2011) review of Michael Lista’s first collection of poetry, Bloom, calling it chicken-shit.

Jennings wondered why.

Here’s why.

Early on he tells us that "every" book of poems "plays this game" of weaving as many threads together as the poet can "without shutting out all air and strangling the thing." Immediately preceeding this, we learned that "First books divide into several species," some of which "collapse under the weight of too many competing ideas."

How threads in a  "loose" collection of works-to-date can be woven together by the poet, short of retroactively, I’ll leave for Jennings to explain. What I can tell you though is that it’s chicken-shit to dump one foul, confused misgiving up against a subsequent ‘neutral’ description of a work. Which is what Jennings does when he goes on to introduce Bloom. The implication is that the latter exudes the former. Rather than directly asserting that Lista’s book is over-heavy with competing ideas, we’re left only with troublingly opaque juxtaposition. Explain how and why these ideas detract from the work instead of merely insinuating it.

As Nick Mount, in his Walrus review of Ken Babstock’s latest, reminds us, most poets write for, and have been influenced by, other poets. Lista puts this up front in his collection, by styling each poem after another. Jennings, without explanation, condemns this as a ‘trick’ that ‘disappoints.’ Accusations of ‘parallel slackness’ used to fill out the rhyme aren’t substantiated; then, moderating ‘alarms’ that more seasoned poets evidently hear are dubbed ‘gifts’ that derive from experience…? Experience may develop judgement, but judgement certainly isn’t in itself, a gift. A final little cheap shot also bears notice. When plutonium goes critical it is called a ‘bloom.’ Jennings doesn’t grant Lista this definition, choosing instead to insert the qualifier  ‘apparently’ before giving us  ‘called a Bloom.’ What a picayune tune.

To summarize then, this is a shoddy, very poorly written, poorly reasoned little review, filled with chicken-shit cheap shots; entirely unworthy of its subject.

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2 Responses to “Chris Jennings’s shoddy review of Michael Lista’s Bloom”

  1. Chris Jennings Says:

    I really do not understand what you hope to accomplish by calling the review “chicken-shit” Nigel. If you disagree with my position on the book, great, I would be happy to have a discussion about it with you – hell, if you wanted to put it up as content on your blog, I’d be happy to participate. But you seem to want to make this very personal, and frankly I’m not going to get drawn into one of those name-calling contests we’ve seen so regularly in discussions of reviewing in Canada. I’m aware that this means anyone who reads only your summation and not my review will have an inaccurate sense of what I said and probably who I am, so I’ll have to trust they’ll take the time to look at the review.

    You want to have a civil discussion about the review, you know where to find me.

  2. Nigel Beale Says:

    Thanks for your comment Chris. The aggressive tone came in part as a response to your amusingly belligerent attack on the Sonnet; a parody of sorts. It was not intended as a personal attack. Mostly the post was prompted by your review’s lack of substance. If you’re going to drop that much criticism on a work, you need to back it up. I didn’t see any supporting argument. Granted, ARCs brief review format doesn’t leave much room.

    There’s plenty here.

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