Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Sean O'Brien on Jack Underwood

There's been a very interesting thread over on Jon Stone's Facebook page, about Sean O'Brien's review of Jack Underwood's book Happiness.

I'm going to repeat what I said there, so apologies to those who have already read all this. I don't know Jack Underwood's work well enough to be able to make an informed judgement on what O'Brien says - I've no idea if he really does slip into "a kind of indie house style that can be read (and perhaps more significantly, heard) almost anywhere at present...".

Some of the criticisms of O'Brien's review are that he has paid insufficient attention to the poets that have emerged in the last decade or so, and that he ends up sounding like a father bemoaning his offspring's taste in music. The problem for me, though, and with so many reviews in the broadsheet press, is that he's paid too much attention to other poetry - surely if you're going to engage with the more casual reader of poetry, you need to assume that they haven't already read a lot of similar-sounding poetry (and as I say, I have no idea if Underwood is part of a wider trend). I'm not saying you need to take each collection in absolute isolation, but equally it's unlikely that any individual reader has had the chance to become quite so jaded by what's out there as the professional poet/reviewer. Unless, of course, you're assuming that the only people reading are other poets, which is worrying in a whole different way.

I don't think this is a problem peculiar to poetry reviews, incidentally. It seems to happen in most fields these days - reviews too often rely on comparison to other examples of the artform, genre, or whatever.

Anyway, O'Brien's more positive comments only reinforce what I'd already felt about Underwood's poetry - that it's well worth checking out. In that sense, it's a good review, because it has only piqued my curiosity.

1 comment:

Poetry Pleases! said...

Dear Matt

Had Sean O'Brien written a 'reasonable' review of Happiness, it would probably have passed unnoticed. Controversy invariably generates attention. Ask Donald Trump!

Best wishes from Simon R. Gladdish