Monday, March 24, 2008

I'll be without Internet access for a few days, so I won't be able to post here. However, I'll continue to read and make notes on Paradise Lost. When I'm online again, I'll begin posting these.

I've installed moderatorial controls, but you can still comment. Comments will appear when my access returns. I've had to take this step because one of two of the "anonymouses" from the Stanza Report 2 thread (all of whom originally came to this blog from email links - strange, that...) have been posting abusive comments to various threads. Amazingly, these people have also tried to assert their own high moral ground. I've been reviewing poetry for a few years now and this is the first time I've experienced this kind of reaction. However, I stand by my comments, despite the obviously orchestrated (though anonymous) attempt to persuade me to censor them. I guess it's needless for me to say how badly that attempt reflects on all those involved.

So normal service will resume soon. April is NaPoWriMo and I plan to write lots of poetry, if I could just get more flesh on the bones of my current idea. We'll see. I also have three poetry collections to review for Magma magazine, so life is going to be busy.


Anonymous said...


I thoroughly enjoy your blog and must admit I check it rather religiously. I hope you're back online sooner rather than later.

I have read with a mixture of sadness and amusement the 39 comments your StAnza report, Day 2 generated.

I am saddened to see you being attacked so publicly. If you or anyone else feels something about someone else's "poetry", I think you have every right to state your opinion publicly.

I must confess, the apparent offense taken at your comments amuses me. I am not on the receiving end, but I trust you treat them with the seriousness their anonymity deserves.

For the record, it was great to see you at StAnza, and I hope to make the next Great Grog, where I will be on the lookout for any clique forming. Oh, and literary discenment as well. I won't be tolerating any of that.....

Keep the faith,


Cailleach said...

Sorry to hear about your comments problem, Rob.

NaPoWriMo - I have been saying for three years how I'd like to give it a go - so now the moment is almost here and I think I could do a lot worse; especially given that the dissertation requires 30 good poems... that's on top of the 60 that I'll have written by the end of May...erk!

Reading the Signs said...

Thanks for reminding me about NaPoWriMo. I'd like to have a go this year, having warmed up with self-imposed poetry bootcamp over Lent.

Jane Holland: Editor said...

Blimey, I fall ill for a week or so, and when I get back on my feet, all hell has broken loose on Surroundings.

I read those anonymous attacks on you with disbelief. Gosh, though, isn't it odd how the most unpleasant attacks on blogs are nearly always anonymous? At least when I attack someone online I always use my real name (and then put up with the hassle of anonymous crackpots for weeks afterwards).

I think you hit the nail on the head with your comments about 'back-slapping' as opposed to literary criticism, btw.

Experienced poets tend to accept that public reviews of their work will appear - if they're lucky! - and that those reviews may well be extremely negative. But some less experienced poets - in particular from within spoken word traditions - see any negative comments as an unjustified public attack rather than a legitimate 'review' of their skills. Only the sweetly gooey stuff, please. Anything even remotely critical, keep it to yourself.

And people say I'm exaggerating when I insist that standards of literary criticism in Britain have dropped through the floorboards over the past few decades.

Anonymous said...

There’s another element to this, Jane, which particularly gets my goat: the insinuation that Scotland, as a ‘small country’, will fare better if everyone living in it conspires to agree that every home-spun creative act is pure dead brilliant. This blind support will supposedly make Us stronger in relation to Them – whoever those Big Guys might be.

A kind of perpetual victimhood, really, for which the only possible solution is to imagine we’re living in a national Support Centre with 5 million members whose personal growth is permanently under threat. We’re advised to shut shop and keep it in the Family. The only advantage of the ‘small country’ model, as far as I can see, is that it’s much easier to believe you’re a big fish in it.

I’d be astonished if the more important middle-age-era Scottish writers around today (Jamie, Burnside, Paterson, Crawford, etc.) took a similar small-minded view. Their writing certainly doesn’t betray anything of the sort.

And there are others resident here, Jen Hadfield for example, who have things to say about the place which aren’t loaded down by the baggage of self-styled and self-promoted insecurities such as these. Sometimes it takes an outsider to see things as the really are, and define what this country (or at least a real slice of it) might imaginatively be – and not a patronising little-nationhood cliché in sight.

On that note, Jen’s latest book was given a one-sentence review on someone’s blog recently: “Hadfield's book struck me as quite flat, except for two excellent cat poems at the end.” Rather unfairly dismissive you might say, but a personal response nonetheless. And Jen’s war of attrition on this blogger, and her rallying-round of friends and acquaintances in order to demand a full retraction of the statement, is noticeable by its mature and reasonable absence.

Your point about ‘experienced poets’ pretty much explains why she doesn’t see this one comment as a threat, I think. Like all experienced poets, she has a realistic and hard-won critical sense of her own work. Without that, writers end up using poems as a means to an end, i.e. the bait with which we catch a little praise for ourselves.

Having taught creative writing to adults, this is usually the cardinal mistake they make on Day One. The ones who get over it go on to write recognisable poetry; the ones who don’t at least have something to amuse themselves with in a mutually-supportive environment.


Jane Holland said...

Jen is quite right to ignore such things. I've occasionally found unpleasant or dismissive comments about my work on the internet - and about me, indeed - but haven't yet bothered to pursue any of them. How embarrassing to do so!

Once the work's out there it no longer belongs to us as writers, anyway. It's public property, beyond our reach. We have to turn our attention to the next project, ignore what else might be going on as best we can.

In the Isle of Man, they describe the small nation mentality you mention as 'Manx crabs'. Load of crabs in a bucket, top ones all scrabbling to get out, lower ones pulling them back down before they can reach the rim and freedom.

I was one of the lucky ones; I swam out. I love the island deeply but in the end there was nothing for it but to leave. Unfortunately though, small-mindedness is everywhere, not just in small places.

Matt Merritt said...

I couldn't agree more with everything said in the comments here, especially what Jane said about the work becoming public property.
Don't let these attacks dilute what is one of the most entertaining poetry blogs going.

Andrew Philip said...

Hear, hear, everyone. I've one wee thing to add to these emminently sensible comments (and the comment I inadvertently added to the wrong post): surely it's a mark of respect for the writer and their work to engage with it critically.