In “Book Reviews: A Tortured History,” published in The Atlantic in April 2012, Sarah Fay outlines a modern history of book review culture in which the primary question, as it tends to be today, is whether overly glowing book reviews or completely damning ones are ever productive ways to become aware of or understand literature. For instance, she writes, “In 1846, [Edgar Allan] Poe wrote that book reviews (and the publishing industry) were a sham and riddled with nepotism.” Further along in her survey she explains how Zadie Smith railed against “mean” reviews and insisted that they always be positive and “useful.” The thesis of Fay’s essay is that book reviews have consistently been under fire for having ulterior political or personal motives and for being ultimately suspect in their greater purpose. She then criticizes those who have criticized reviewers for forgetting the human element of review. A deviation from the traditional review seeks to amplify, exploit, or diminish this problem, not accept it.
Many literary magazines have dedicated space to alternative modes of approach, response, and discussion to poetry, including Lemon Hound, Volta,and Horse Less Press. The purpose of this portfolio is to continue the project of exploring and expanding the notion of the review into wider and weirder territory. What constitutes “review” in light of its semantic, social, political, and literary purposes? These creative and experimental responses intend to provide an unexpected view that then manifests as a surprisingly useful way to understand someone’s poetry beyond a simple and extended analysis of its form, themes, and ways of conforming to the expectations of readers. The purpose of such a review is not necessarily to comment on the poetry, or to provide a reflection that deepens an understanding according to prescribed standards. Rather, an experimental review provides an entirely new text that shows how a reader has moved forward with their own thinking and relationship to language and poetry as a result of experiencing the work.