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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Steve Fellner writes a letter to Randall Mann

When I finished your book of poems Breakfast with Thom Gunn, my competing reactions were these: I was bummed it was over (it felt way too short), while at the same time, I knew if the book were any longer it would hurt your project. Let me explain: I see you as one of our most successful practitioners of Light Verse...

10 comments:

C. Dale said...

What is this, negative review month?

Anonymous said...

Hi C. Dale,

I actually thought it was a positive review, and am surprise that you think otherwise. In my review I call him one of the "most successful practitioners of Light Verse." I don't think you can get more positive then that, can you?

And I took the time to quote so many of the poems I've liked. Does a negative review do such things?

Personally, I don't write reviews about "bad" books. It's waste of my time. I only write pieces about books that challenge me, and, yes create some sort of ambivalence in me. I wrote an extended piece about Josh Bell's book No Planets Strike (which for me is one of the best debut books I've ever read and probably will read for a long time) for The Western Humanities Review. The book haunted me, raised some ambivalences, and that's why I chose it.

This is my motivation for writing a review: to create an authentic and emotional meaningful dialogue with the author. Is there anything more complimentary to the author. It wakes a lot of time to read the book cover to cover and write something about it.

I think reviews that care about the book (and I think you and I could find many rhetorical moves that do this in the review; if anything--I was afraid that Randall would be upset that I didn't engage my problems with the book enough, especially since Randall has deftly and smartly helped create an important anthology in which he had no choice but to make critical decisions.

(Just as you make important and critical decisions as an editor. Is there anything different than a reviewer and an editor except the former puts his rationale out there?)

Again 1.) I don't understand at all how you can see the review as position. Maybe you think the review is poorly written. Which is cool. 2.) What's the problem with a review. I see it as an act of respect to the author that you care enough about him and his project to engage with it.

Reviews are nothing to be afraid of. I have been grateful for whatever feedback I've received.

I also think a review is an act of service. It forces you to move beyond yourself, beyond your own work. I plan to write more reviews if an editor will allot me some space as John Deming so kindly did. (He is by the way an incredibly generous editor, so deeply invested in the ethic of reviewing, something I have written about and care about.)

And in the spirit of the review, dialogue, and engagement, that's why I'm taking on what I seem to be an unfair comment.

With much respect,

Steve Fellner

Anonymous said...

P.S.

To hypothesize, is the offensiveness you feel to be the fact that I call it Light Verse??? I have the utmost respect for Light Verse and I hope my tone didn't come off as pejorative. Check out W.H. Auden's anthology: it's amazing. (Maybe I needed to emphasize this more rather than just in the first paragraph and name W.H. Auden) And I still see Mann engaging in such a genre. If I'm right, (I'm in a rush to go teach right now), he even writes a poem derived from bathroom graffiti in MiPoesias. Which I love. But I might be making up that connection. Hopefully, not. :)

Anonymous said...

P.P.S.

I can't figure out how to use Blogger. Both of the anonymous comments are by me, Steve Fellner ;)

C. Dale said...

Tone, Steve. The review sounds as if you are damning with faint praise. And I am not the only one who read it that way. You state here you feel differently, and that is fine. So the review is one I see as negative and not a negative review. Semantics. And I don't check Eduardo's comment boxes all that often, so email me if you want to discuss this further. otherwise, no big deal.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to email you, C. Dale.

I do want to say here in this public space tho a few things since it was said that more than you just thought this. So this isn't directed at you. But the other people.

1.) Thank you for having the conviction to publicly take me on. Too often gay men conceal their genuine feelings because they're afraid they'll lose allies in the marginalized community rather than actively engaging in constructive, opinionated discussion. I wrote the review as a letter because I feel that if you offer a critique to someone you should offer it to their face. Just as I hope those who are critical of my review would say something to my face or email me. That's why I wrote it that way. I wanted to be confrontational; I wanted to open up the discussion. I challenge the other to openly talk to me publicly or privately.

2.) I think it was a praiseworthy book. For the other people who thought I was damning it, I am concerned about their close readings of the review.

3.) Light Verse is something as I said in the review is Important and undervalued and underexplored.
Mann even said in an interview that Auden is one of his interviews. (I looked it up.)

4.) I don't think all poems are meant to be "remembered", "memorized"--I think Mann's poems aren't meant to be that. There's other poems I think that way about. In a much different way, John Ashberry isn't meant to be "memorized," thus "remmebered."

5.) I hope that gay and straight people would take the time to criticize me openly on blogs other public spaces for my unfair treatment.

6.) Another book that I was going to write about was Jericho Brown's book. However, I had sent him a private email about something and because I made that contact I felt it was unethical so I didn't. It is a book like a lot of books I "liked" but it also raised a lot of issues for me, some that "bothered" me. Another book I would have liked to have written about officially was James Allen Hall's. All thes books I bought out of my own pocket because I am nosy and want to see what my peers are doing.

7.) I hope none of these emails are thought of as a retraction of what I said. Because they're not meant that way. I think Mann's book is important enough to warrant talking about. And most of what I read doesn't.

8.) I don't think Mann's book is a Masterpiece. I think very, very, very few books are. I think Thylias Moss and Frank Bidart write masterpieces.

9.)If we're talking about gay authors who I think are amazing (not writing Masterpieces per se) off the top of my head I think of a seriously overlooked one: Rane Arroyo. I am completely confused and upset as to why he receives very little mention in queer periodicals. They're funny (and he sometimes writes what I would dub light verse) as well as complicated interrogations into race and queerness among other things that are rarely didactic. Also: Benjamin Grossery who has had two books coming out on a relatively short span does consistently great work that deserves more attention. But the same people seem to get it over and over again.

10.) I hope if Mann himself has problems with my review or wants to call me out he would do so. That's why I wrote a letter. I don't backstab. I say everything to peoples' faces in hopes that I get personal attention (I'm not an altruist) and to further the dialogue in hopes of being edified. So this is for all those others.

Steve Fellner

P.S. I am going to write an individual email to . Dale. I appreciated the invitation. Also: if someone else wants to yell at me personally, my email is sfellner@brockport.edu.

C. Dale said...

I made a comment about your review. I am not "taking you on" but simply making a comment. Okay, you like Mann's book and see this as a positive review. That is fine. I am just telling you I didn't see it as positive. Reviewers are free to write what they want, but that doesn't mean all will agree. Such is life. As I said before, not a big deal.

Anonymous said...

Hi,

(Again, this is Not targeted at all toward you, C. Dale, but The Others--I'm sad Lost is a rerun tonight; that's why I can't get that lingo out of my head.)

I agree with most people that it's no big deal ultimately. I see it as fun. Fun with definite stakes. Why write something if there's nothing at stake? As I'm sure everyone would agree.

I figured that there would be consequences by having some reservations (tho mostly positive review) about a man who is beloved in the gay poetry community. (I'm a total outside who knows no one for the most part.) And I'm sure there will be other consequences: people don't like when one disobeys middle-class etiquette: reserve and silent judgment.

Thank you, C. Dale for not falling into that trap. That's why I read your blog! I know you have edge.

Steve

Anonymous said...

Hi,

(Again, this is Not targeted at all toward you, C. Dale, but The Others--I'm sad Lost is a rerun tonight; that's why I can't get that lingo out of my head.)

I agree with most people that it's no big deal ultimately. I see it as fun. Fun with definite stakes. Why write something if there's nothing at stake? As I'm sure everyone would agree.

I figured that there would be consequences by having some reservations (tho mostly positive review) about a man who is beloved in the gay poetry community. (I'm a total outside who knows no one for the most part.) And I'm sure there will be other consequences: people don't like when one disobeys middle-class etiquette: reserve and silent judgment.

Thank you, C. Dale for not falling into that trap. That's why I read your blog! I know you have edge.

Steve

poetwithadayjob said...

wow. all this happened on your blog Lorcaloca. LOL. I was just gonna say, I finished the book, and saw Randy read last night, and the verse is not light. I'm w/ C. Dale, I totally read it that review as not good. Perhaps I am just another one of those humorless lesbians.