So maybe I've mentioned before that I write book reviews for BOXCAR Poetry?
Maybe I hadn't -- but my first review is live! Check out the latest issue here along with my review of Stacy Gnall's debut book of poetry, Heart First Into the Forest.
I learned that writing a book review is pretty darn time consuming. It takes multiple readings of an entire book to really get a good feel for it. And then there's piecing everything together, figuring out what your "strategic location" (harharhar sue me I'm reading Said ATM) is in relation to the text, and then there's actually writing. All of it takes a lot out of a little poet... but it is, indeed, a supremely worthy endeavor.
For one (and probably most important) it makes YOU a better poet. Getting that intimate with another person's text teaches you a lot about what works, and what doesn't. From writing this review, I learned a lot about the importance of macro structure, of "anchor poems" that hold some sort of narrative throughout a collection.
And not only that, just like the term "close reading" implies, you learn about the micro stuff that comes with poetry, too. This particular book had a lot of rhythm, which is something I know I need to work on with my own poems. So cool! I hope some of Gnall rubs off on me.
Writing book reviews also helps you to champion the type of work you love. Now that's pretty abstract, too. But we all have a certain "type" of poetry that we relate to, and it's usually the same type of poetry we ourselves write. So you're helping to further your field, in a way? Does that make sense? Ok let's get a little bit more concrete. Gnall's book of poetry has a lot of retellings of fairy tales in dark and sometimes kind of sexy ways. Now who else do you know that might do this? Why me, of course! So in giving the book a positive review, I'm therefore championing, too, the type of writing I do, carving out a slightly bigger space for it in the poetic conversation.
Writing book reviews helps you get into journals that normally would probably want to laugh at you hehehe... I mean, now, on my list of pubs, I've got BOXCAR, which is a pretty stellar place to say you've been published. I had submitted poems to them in the past, and have received a good share of form rejections. So if you can't beat um, join um, right? Now I'm a regular reviewer!
It's good poetry karma! I'm putting it out to the universe that I read, respect, and review the works of other poets. Maybe maybe maybe someone will do the same for mine come May? :-D
Writing book reviews helps you to justify your addiction to reading books. This is true. You get free books, which frees up money in my budget to... well, buy more books. Harharhar. And not only that, there are a lot of paying markets out there for reviews. I don't get paid, but hey, maybe if I build up a good list of credits, I can start writing for another journal that does (in addition to BOXCAR, because I love writing for BOXCAR now!).
Also, you just plain look smart. Now, when people ask me -- what do you do? I say, "I'm a book reviewer!" which is a whole lot sexier, in my opinion, than saying I teach English at a local community college.
People are nicer to you. Now that I'm a book reviewer, poets want to be my friend. Yay!
So there's "the why." My next blog post, maybe, if I'm not too lazy, I'll cover "the how." Probably not. Don't count on it.