I've been having an interesting discussion over at the blog of Canadian writer Conrad DiDiodato. The discussion started with the following quote, on Conrad's blog, from Eliot weinberger:
"The United States doesn’t have the class of literary supplements that you find in Spain and many other countries… Criticism, in the United States, has been reduced to ‘recommendations’, which arrive through reviews, blogs and Twitter. Prizes have become the standard validation of literary merit. I can’t think of a single American critic to whom one can turn in search of ideas …" (read the full quote here)
We then discussed the high quality of reviews and essays in the French press, and I introduced Conrad to Pierre Assouline's blog. We do have the TLS and the London Review of Books, which, although they're pretty conservative, do carry quality critical writing. But in the broadsheets, reviews of poetry, at least, are largely reduced to ‘recommendations’, witness this recent 'review' in The Guardian. The blogosphere seems to be the place for a wider range and more in-depth discussion of poetry. But even here, there's a problem; namely, that in the age of Facebook and Twitter, poets are very likely to know each other, if not personally, then virtually. On-line communications lends itself, indeed, possibly requires, comforting compliments and regular praise, to keep communication flowing with someone you've never met; or, conversely, unrestrained, anonymous venom. Neither of these things are conducive to objective, disinterested critique. Maybe we need more critics who are not poets, and therefore untrestrained by the need to butter up publishers and other poets. But such people are rare; maybe it just needs a bit more courage and objectivity from poet-critics.