I have this idea for a new kind of review. Call it a “gallery” review. Just a long list of quotations, individual lines mostly. Maybe a few two-fers and three-fers. At any rate: the best lines from the book, cherry-picked and re-typed by the reviewer. No commentary at all.
I’m prompted to this idea by the fact I’ve been doing it for years with my friends. It’s the first thing I do when anybody sends me their manuscript, if I’m giving it a good read. I read the thing, and underline all the good stuff (using a ruler and a light green pen), and then I assemble a long email, retyping all the best bits. Sometimes those little galleries are so exhilarating, they’re well worth sending to other people besides the poet. I’ve sent my “58 Bits from Robert Fernandez’s We Are Pharaoh” to at least four people besides Robert.
This kind of review wouldn’t be for everybody. Some citizens just got to have that analysis. Got to have that graduate-student, name-checking prose.
Me, I just go by good lines anyway. Actually, now I think of it, Auden says almost the exact same thing somewhere. That the quotes in a review are usually the only part worth reading, if you’re trying to actually get anywhere. Must be in The Dyer’s Hand. At any rate, now that everything’s online, isn’t the thing I’m calling for rather tenable? There are no spatial limitations on the internet.
Another good idea. A kind of hybrid poetry manual that would be partly poetics and partly Kama Sutra. A hodgepodge of tips for writing good poetry, mixed up with tips for appreciating each other’s good looks and getting each other off. The two themes should be treated as if they are absolutely equivalent, same exact status—almost as if they are the same topic throughout.
This is a good idea. And, you know, they actually did have books like that in medieval India. I’m thinking of those collections of erotic epigrams, where it’s thing after thing after thing about bodies, and then there’ll be one like this:
The gold of poetry
gets smelted and refined
from the speech of
Let us go
cheerfully among them
with poised minds.*
(*Dropping the Bow: Poems from Ancient India, trans. Andrew Schelling. Seattle: Broken Moon Press, 1991. Page 45. The poem is credited to Varahamihira.)
I have an emendation suggestion. Marvell’s “The Garden.” Look at this stanza:
When we have run our passion’s heat
Love hither makes his best retreat:
The gods, who mortal beauty chase,
Still in a tree did end their race;
Apollo hunted Daphne so
Only that she might laurel grow;
And Pan did after Syrinx speed
Not as a nymph, but for a reed.
Do you get that? Marvell’s being witty. Apollo ran after Daphne, not so he could have her, but so she would turn into a laurel. He wanted the laurel. And Pan didn’t want the girl; he wanted the reeds (so he could make his little Peruvian flute thing). Get it? Marvell’s playfully driving home the idea that plants are better than people.
Good. But look at that last line. Shouldn’t it be “not FOR a nymph, but for a reed”—? Every time a new edition of Marvell comes out, I check to see if the editor has anything to say about this. Nothing ever happens. I’ve never seen it printed any other way besides the way I have it, above.
Am I looking at it wrong? I can’t see how “as” works there at all. Surely Marvell wrote “for.” (Comment stream’s open, nerds. I wanna hear somebody defend that “as.”)
Speaking of emendation suggestions. My student Margaret Kuchler had a lot to say about how to fix up “The Walrus and the Carpenter.” She had to memorize it for school (she’s sixteen), and was quite insistent that the alterations supplied by her struggling memory pretty much carried the authority of Poetic Truth. And they did. Look at these lines:
The moon was shining sulkily,
Because she thought the sun
Had got no business to be there
After the day was done . . .
Maggie was all, “Had got no business being there—not ‘to be there’. ‘To be there’ is sickening and wrong….”
She had a lot of these. Four out of five of ’em were spot-on. Sometimes she didn’t know what to do to fix the lines; she just knew she disapproved. Anyway, of course I did not withhold from the child my theory that what she was doing is the Right Way to correct verses….
APHORISM: Memory is the better poet.