Most of us, if we're lucky I suppose -- especially we poets -- get book reviews. Could be large national magazines, or literary reviews, or various newspapers -- all sorts of places. And that's great, right? However, while hopefully you have received mostly positive reviews for your books, do any negative reviews stick out in your mind? What's your worst book review ever?
I'll be honest with you. As an author of some 15 poetry collections published over the past 18 years by virtually all small presses, some no longer even around now, it's been hard for me to get reviews. For instance, I can forget about places like Kirkus; I don't think they even review poetry! Since many of my poems over the years have appeared in the little magazines, the underground and punk-type magazines, that's where many of my reviews have come, and there's simply a limited audience for those types of reviews. However, in addition to these magazines, a number of newspapers have reviewed some of my books, and that's been good, generally. Now is the time for the honesty I previously mentioned: of all of the reviews I've ever received, only ONE could be termed "bad," and it was actually lukewarm, not truly bad! And I think that's a pretty good track record. This "bad" review had some funny circumstances though. Here's what happened.
My first "major" book, in terms of a pretty large press run (for a poetry book) and publicity, etc., etc., was Places. It was published in late 1995, early 1996 by Sterling House, in Pittsburgh, a publisher which no longer touches poetry, sadly. Anyway, review copies were sent to a number of magazines and newspapers. I got some reviews, as well as publicity for a book tour on the west coast. Additionally, university alumni newspapers and magazines wrote stories about me and my books. (That's a great way to get free publicity, BTW.) Anyway, no huge newspapers wrote reviews on my book, and that was disappointing. I was hoping the Los Angeles Times would, as I was a "local," but there are a lot of locals in L.A. and they don't review much poetry, so that was that. So, I was excited about the prospect of my hometown newspaper, the Knoxville News Sentinel, running a review on the book, perhaps with a "hometown boy makes good" story as well. After all, I had gone to high school and college in Knoxville, and this was my fifth or sixth book, and my biggest thus far. Furthermore, it's not like Knoxville can claim too many authors, outside of James Agee and a few others. (IMO, Marilyn Kallet is currently Knoxville's "biggest" author/poet.) Thus, imagine my surprise and horror when I got a copy of the (small) review that the business editor wrote on my new book!!! I actually can't remember actual details in terms of what was said -- after all, that was 12 years ago -- but I do remember the tone being lukewarm, and the review saying things like "this is a little book of contemporary poetry," and it was "confusing" (maybe it should have been given to the book review editor???) and basically uneven in places (aren't all poetry books?), and a couple of somewhat crass poems about Knoxville stood out in this editor's mind. Didn't trash the book, but certainly didn't praise it and advocate acquiring it. And the local bookstores were stocking a ton of autographed copies (a ton equals 25 or more each, to me), in anticipation of the run on the stores based on the local review. Can you believe that??? Meanwhile, the other Tennessee newspapers were essentially raving, and every other review I've ever received has largely been glowing. Therefore, my hometown paper's lone review stands out in my mind. I've ensured that paper has never received another book of mine for review. Call me spiteful, but it ticked me off. Naturally, they weren't obligated to write a glowing review, and of course I understand that, but darn it, give the book to a "real" book reviewer and go ahead and play up the local angle -- it benefits everyone.
So, details folks. Your worst review? What happened? What do you remember about it? Any shockers out there?
BTW, today is my birthday. It's going to be a bipolar kind of day: happy/depressed, happy/depressed, etc.
Causes Scott Holstad Supports
PEN, The Authors Guild, Sierra Club