The problem with a generation declaring literature to be basically over is that it deprives the following generations of the thought that their lives and thoughts might be worth novelising. It results in the experience I’ve had with Ben Lerner, Luke Kennard, Sally Rooney, suddenly recognising myself in the books, thinking – ah, so this is how novels shore us up. But then on the back cover of The Topeka School I read Sally Rooney’s comment – “To the extent that we can speak of a future at present, I think that the future of the novel is here”. And I feel strange. Does each modern novel writer think they are entourage to the last writers? Do they always feel the door shutting after them?
The extravagance of poetry is this contention that it deserves the amount of space it takes up. If done unconsciously, it can underwhelm, but with great confidence it shines. Like a single acorn sat in the centre of an small warehouse.
I imagine a solid gold maze hung from invisible wires in a large room, undulating under the diffuse light. Although for some it is not a luxury, poetry is luxurious speech.
Starred reviews mean nothing. But they mean even less unless stratified across types of reader. In this way goodreads, for example, could relatively easily implement a questionnaire upon which the weighting of your review scores would depend. They would be weighted more strongly when viewed by readers who answered the questions similarly to you. Or maybe you could stratify it across educational levels – high school, a-level, degree, higher. In this way you could see which books scored better amongst certain groups, and give a better indication of the successfulnesses of books in this regard.
Otherwise you get the ‘greatest hits’ syndrome, which is where an album, as album, sounds basically bland because it is made up of only the songs that appealed to everyone.
What use is pedantry to start with, but what use is a pedantry that has no connection with how most people think? I think this while translating, and remember some old thoughts I would have when comparing a translated text with its original – ‘ha ha, what were they thinking there, that’s not what it should say’. But of course, when you take a single piece of a jigsaw and compare it to another jigsaw showing the same image, but cut in a different way, it can’t really help you at all. ‘I wouldn’t have put that piece there’ – but your piece wouldn’t have fit there. You have to cut the entire jigsaw yourself. (And this isn’t to say that there is one thing which is done two ways, because two jigsaws with the same image are two different things.)
Reviewing a poetry book is a strange activity. Like reviewing food. But do you like this sort of luxury? A sparse luxury? Or do you like a full and rigid luxury? Or a broken, scattered luxury? Do you like your luxury on toast? Or strewed with caviar? Buffet or sit down meal? The galaxy brain addendum to this is to say that reviewing itself is a luxurious activity, and has its own techniques and cuisines.