Hazelnuts and poetry reviews

At the Feast of Fields the other weekend, we noticed a bowl of hazelnuts at the Dunsmuir Lodge stand. We paused, we tasted, we tasted again. They were amazing! We asked about them and were told they had been shelled the day before, then blanched in water, dusted with icing sugar and deep fried. Spectacular. Another (get thee behind me Satan) reason I’m so glad I don’t own a deep fryer…

I have been reading a book mentioned earlier on this blog, 101 Ways to Sell Poems and was struck by the sections (they are several) to do with reviewing. In my experience writers here spend almost as much time uselessly deploring the state of reviewing as dissing our teeny tiny publishers for not being more powerful marketing machines. This book answers both questions with the suggestion we just get off our duffs and wade in there to help.

Reviewing, as Chris Hamilton-Emery points out, needn’t be limited to the already limited space in newspapers. We can be both reviewers and reviewees, and both positions are helpful to our own literary presence. We have the power of the net behind us. Blogs, of course, are good places to air our allegiances to books that impress us (and hey — what am I doing now?); so are online bookseller review spaces (e.g. Amazon.ca); online journals and e-zines, listservs, our own web pages are also good places to do this. And there’s nothing to stop us from starting another online reviewing journal anytime we want. Implicit in his discussion is the suggestion not to waste time and newsprint/webspace trashing other writers’ works: you do more good by promoting your interests through positive action.

Some of the many remarks I found noteworthy came from the publisher side of Hamilton-Emery’s brain, where he addresses that question we get from our publishers: to whom should we send review copies? Hamilton-Emery tells you to stop and think carefully about that one, because it serves nobody’s interests to simply send copies to every newspaper and journal around. Profit margins on poetry are low enough, he observes; the last favour you want to do yourself and your publisher is to “flush their profits down the drain [by sending] too many unsolicited review copies to the benighted leagues of literary editors.” He urges poets to “Think of all the junk mail you have ever received and how delighted you were in opening it all up and reading it.”

He assures us that there is nothing untoward in cultivating reviewers to talk about our books. Other people are already doing this. All you are doing is helping out the journal by focusing their ability to match the right reviewer to the right book, instead of leaving them to wade through the accumulations and randomly assign, let’s say, absolutely the wrong book to the wrong reviewer.

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