Two reviews diverged in the woods. And I write the kind published less.
Which is to say I am a reviewer who does not shy away from negative critiques. Before I wrote my first review for publication, before I even chose a book to review, I decided to be the type of reader who would remain true to my (subjective, fickle) reactions and aesthetic. Positive or negative, I would write my review honestly and stand behind it. I find no better way to honor a book than to give the text the focused attention it deserves. And I find no better way to show respect to the author and their writing than to react to it honestly, to argue with it or embrace it. To show them my face, smiling or scowling. This is how I choose to conduct myself creatively.
All this brings me to Worst New Poets, a freshly-minted and anonymous Twitter account that takes aim at “established” authors and the journals/presses (though authors tend to get the brunt of their critiques) that are publishing these writers “based on strength of name alone” (a problematic assertion though most definitely true in some cases.)
I believe in honest and safe discourse. I believe in praising and critiquing poetry while advocating for emerging writers. I believe any author, no matter how well established, can and should be looked at with a critical eye. I believe there are problems in the poetry world that need to be addressed: nepotism, careerism, unethical practices, etc. I bet WNP agrees.
But at this point our paths diverge.
Besides having a problem with the simple way they tweet so-called “bad” lines taken out of context (which does little to further critical discussions and encourages thoughtless critiques) besides their short-sighted definition of “established” and a few other petty things, my main issue stems with their anonymity. There are, of course, the usual complaints. For instance, anonymity allows for lazy and/or simply vindictive responses – from WNP, from the people who email them – to popular poets because there is no accountability, no personal or professional repercussions. Credibility, of course, is always in question. And although they have been thus far devoid of true malice, WNP must accept the fact any critical account operating anonymously will automatically be seen as more malicious than they may intend. But I can move past those quibbles. I can give them the benefit of the doubt.
My true problem with their anonymity is that it supports the very culture many of us (including WNP) want to change.
WNP has stated it would be “suicide” to attach any of their names to this project, which sounds startlingly similar to what motivates careerists from openly critiquing the popular poets of our time. Anonymous critiquing is not a solution to a problem, it’s a symptom. If we are to decry the publishing industry’s “incestuous” practice of publishing friends or mediocre work from known names, we must do so publicly. If we are to create a cultural change, we have to do something different than what a majority of careerist and/or bitter writers are already doing and have been doing for decades. There isn’t really anything new, subversive, or revolutionary about what WNP tweets, which is disappointing really, how ordinary it all is compared to how truly unique they could be. Though they don’t advocate for “safe” poetic lines they do play it safe behind their mask. And I don’t know of any safe revolutions in history.
True revolution of the literary culture won’t start with an anonymous parody account but with one face, one voice, one person who does the most heroic and simple act imaginable: speak their truth.