I try to avoid critical review of poetry. Throughout my years in academia, I’ve done my best in classes that require it. Under those circumstances, I divorce the work from the artist and give vague impressions. I need to author an essay on how broken the peer review workshopping system is. I find it destructive to sit in a circle and dish hot takes on someone’s writing while they are forced to just sit there and take it. I’ve found that most students don’t take the time to do any level of reasoned, critical analysis. Most often it’s akin to what happens on social media: fake smiling and offering up only blasé positivity in the hopes of receiving the same. I get it, though. There’s a lot of politics to navigate in school. That sense that you’ve got to be everyone’s friend, and not rock the boat, is especially prevalent for the under-25 crowd. But if you really want to “do unto others as you’d have done unto you”, you should offer as honest an opinion on someone’s work as possible. If it’s “negative”, then there should be suggestions on how to improve. The only way to overcome the fear of a reprisal to make sure your own work is as bulletproof as possible. This is how cream rises. But what I’ve seen in the past couple of years of university—albeit “open” university, where the standards are closer to community college than say a Harvard—is empty platitudes for mediocrity. But I digress.
Patrick Friesen has assembled the most cohesive and coherent collection of poems that I’ve come across in my slim two years of academic study of poetry. I hope to discover more like this.