Friday, April 2, 2010

To criticize the critic

Not the done thing apparently.

But if I'm going to consider "who is speaking" and the sincerity typos sooner or later I run up against the idea that what is really at stake is the indvidual's response to the poem. And the dangers of taking a subjective reaction and passing it off as an objective, measured response.

So i've been domesticating the argument and thinking about the reviewer who described parts of Lady G as “embarrassingly unconvincing.”

What does that mean? Does it tell the reader of the review about the poem or the critic? And what as writer could I learn from this? How do I make my poem more "convincing".

The story of Lady Godiva’s ride though the city as told by twelfth century latin chroniclers is historically unconvincing because it claims to be truth and there are too many reasons why it couldn’t be.

If you claim to have kayaked the Herbert river from its upper reaches to where it becomes tidal and don’t mention or remember that below the main falls there is a series of falls which must either be paddled at great risk or portaged at some risk, then I will be unconvinced.

In both cases I can measure the claims against an objective knowledge. ANd the claims are undermined by their own inaccuracies.

So our critic is saying he’s met a First century Roman Legionnaire and knows they don’t speak like this? I don't think so.

let us give the critic the benefit of the doubt, a courtesy he doesn't extend in his review: surely he doesn’t think I’m stupid enough to pretend this is what a real Roman legionnaire said in the first century standing on the ramparts of the Lunt?

So given that it’s not a truth statement, and given the fact that this is not a warped attempt at mimesis which can be measured against the real thing, what does it mean to say it’s unconvincing?

our critic apparently find this embarrassing because? The only real evidence is:

“A green hill “does Dumb Insolence” (more schoolboy attitude than war)”

Sitting there at his computer, wouldn’t you think he'd check his own understanding? How long would it take to type “dumb Insolence” definition into Google? If he had, the first thing he’d have read on the search results page, without even bothering to open the link would be:

Dumb insolence is an offence against military discipline in which a subordinate displays an attitude of defiance towards a superior without open disagreement. It is also found in settings such as education in which obedience and deference to a teacher is expected but may be refused by unruly pupils

Had he bothered to check further he would have found out that in the British military, it was a court martial offence and in time of war punishable by firing squad.

Why did he think his understanding of the term was the only one? Or assume that I wouldn't have checked it before using it?

Instead he declares of number 5: in tones that remind me of my English teacher (which is not a compliment) : “it should have been left out of the sequence”.


Did he take the time to consider how this piece fits into the sequence, because after all this is a sequence, not a series of randomly collated bits, with its own architecture: those veterans sipping tea in part two had just come out of the British military and it might have been a part of the vocabulary passed on to the /I/ growing up in the migrant city. His teachers, many of whom were ex-military might have carried that vocabulary into the school grounds and Adrian Mitchell's poem did a lot of the carrying (and mutating: the sullen ten year old says "They don't like it/but they can't do you for it") .

He might have considered what those twelve lines were doing there, what that speaker might be there to represent and how his statement might be seen to qualify or at least challenge, or be qualified or challenged by the hopes of the later migrants who wait for the city to be made familiar in their children’s stories.

But given that he didn't check "dumb Insolence" I have reasons to doubt that he considered any of these things.

I am unconvinced.

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