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Over at Harriet John O’Connor writes a nice piece in which he comments about comments (of teachers on students’ writing). He says he always tries to be encouraging and positive. Colin Ward adds in a comment (on the comment on comments) that it is more important to be truthful than kind, to not trade in candour for encouragement. I think if it was a choice between one or the other I would more often than not prefer candour over encouragement (but not always, depends on the situation). In any case, I completely agree that there is little point that only being positive about anything is (again usually) not going to help someone very much further. But. Just wondering why we can’t simply have a bit of both (in variable doses, depending on the circumstance).

I am all for forthright and harsh criticism (not that I’m any good at it), as long as it is not resentful, as long as, ultimately, it is  coming from a place of affirmation. There is way too much resentment in the poetry community (well, thinking mainly of online comment boxes now. Also, of course there is resentment in any sub-culture really, but no less so in poetry circles). So affirmative criticism, not in the meaning of only always positive. But, yes, in the sense of exploring potential instead of putting down whatever is supposedly lacking in a piece of writing.

David Foster Wallace apparently always marked papers with four colours (got that from a Kelly Writers House ‘Remembering DFW’ podcast, 2008). Harsh criticism, but coming from someone who had invested a lot of time in it and hoped it would actually be constructive.

Also like what Deleuze writes, someone who like no other could ‘pervert’ the ideas of whom he was writing, but always did do so with an attitude of affirmation:

‘If you don’t admire something, if you don’t love it, you have no reason to write a word about it. Spinoza or Nietzsche are philosophers whose critical and destructive powers are without equal, but this power always springs from affirmation, from joy, from a cult of affirmation and joy, from the exigency of life against those who would mutilate and mortify life.’ (don’t know where he wrote that – it’s on the back cover of ‘Desert Islands’).

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But let’s also indulge in some simply destructively destructive criticisms by William Logan, posted in a comment at Harriet by Mark Ford, ‘Samurai Critic’ at the NYT Sunday Book Review:

‘Almost everything Graham writes offers the swagger of emotion, pretentiousness by the barrelful and a wish for originality that approaches vanity — she’s less a poet than a Little Engine that Could, even when it Can’t.’

[Billy Collins is] ‘…the Caspar Milquetoast of contemporary poetry, never a word used in earnest, never a memorable phrase. . . . If such poems look embarrassing now, what are they going to look like in 20 years?’

[Ted Kooser’s poems come] ’slathered in sentiment like corn on the cob with butter,’
[Gary Snyder’s poems are compared to] “the disconnected thoughts of a man trying to make verse with magnets on a refrigerator door.’

[Anne Carson’s are like] ‘parlor games of extraordinary tedium.’

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