#NPM19 Special Edition of From the Vault: Poetry Criticism

As our National Poetry Month content continues, it is tempting to encourage you to just read poetry … read all the poetry. Pick up copies of a few near-forgotten favourites from the Essential Poets series. Snap up a new release or two, like Joe Rosenblatt’s Bite Me! Reach for a challenge by picking up a collection like Shane Neilson’s Dysphoria. Pick up poetry—any book of poetry—and experience the pleasure of telling your brain to think in an entirely different way.

But then I remember that while reading poetry is great in and of itself, reading about poetry also offers a stupendous window into the poetic mind. To me, criticism it is sort of like the missing ingredient in the recent surge in the popularity of poetry because, when you think about it, it is one thing to consume poetry, but it is another to appreciate it. Reading poetry criticism can help you build confidence in your reading, or maybe just show you that you are allowed to have an opinion (unpopular or otherwise) about what you’ve read. It can expand your ability to approach poetry, develop your reading skills, and offer differing interpretations with which you can engage. Also, people confident enough to write about poetry are often crazy-good writers themselves.

If you’d like to delve a little deeper into poetry appreciation, here are a few favourite books of poetry criticism to help you get started.

Strike Anywhere

Strike Anywhere
by Michael Lista

One of the avowed purposes of Michael Lista’s Strike Anywhere is to tackle the question “why does poetry suck?” … which is a pretty good indication that Lista is prepared to be brutally honest throughout the book. His reviews take on famous names as well as poets new to the game, but he also takes a look at the Canadian literary institution in general—with much to say about the type of poetry it churns out. Strike Anywhere is an incisive and at times controversial look at literature and poetry in Canada.

A Lover's Quarrel

A Lover’s Quarrel
by Carmine Starnino

Carmine Starnino is known for his no-holds-barred reviews, which have enlivened the field of Canadian literature for some time. A Lover’s Quarrel collects some of these reviews, but also includes an ambitious reassessment of Canadian poetry. As a poet himself, Starnino has unique insight and the ability to clearly, concisely—and entertainingly—communicate his (sometimes controversial) opinions in writing.

Fine Incisions

Fine Incisions
by Eric Ormsby

For a bit of a change of pace, pick up a copy Eric Ormsby’s Fine Incisions, a collection of gracious and intelligent essays filled with writing that is vigorous, opinionated and occasionally hilarious. With beautifully lyrical language and clarity of thought, Ormsby’s writings vary widely across a number of genres and forms, but always elicit provocative reflection on the part of the reader.

The Pigheaded Soul

The Pigheaded Soul
by Jason Guriel

I can’t help but end with a personal favourite—Jason Guriel’s The Pigheaded Soul. Guriel’s book is intelligent and witty, peppered with pop culture references and wry humour. But what I like best about The Pigheaded Soul is the passion evident in each essay—Guriel knows what he likes and doesn’t like, and he’s not afraid to say what he feels, no matter how controversial his opinion might be. As I tell everyone considering this book: this is the type of criticism I wish I’d read as an undergrad!


PortraitHope you enjoyed this little list of poetry criticism. Perhaps I’ve convinced you to add one to your bookshelf?

Also, let me know if you have a favourite book of poetry criticism you think I should read!


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The Porcupine's Quill would like to acknowledge the support of the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts for our publishing program. The financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (CBF) is also gratefully acknowledged.