Whenever someone reviews a book, and they have spent time reading, contemplating and questioning, I am happy. Reviews connect me with books I might want to read. Poet Emer Lyons recently reviewed my mammoth, maze-like book Wild Honey: Reading NZ Women’s Poetry (MUP, 2019) for Landfall Online.
I loved Emer’s review; it confirmed there is no single way to write one. Reacting to a book that celebrates 201 poets, Emer highlights those she made strong connections with (Heather McPherson, Hinemoana Baker, Tusiata Avia, Rhian Gallagher). I love that. Part of my aim was to write a book that sparked poetry interests in the reader – to encourage them to track down particular poets and find out more. Her review invites you into the experience of a particular reader, a little like a reading diary. Yes, give me a personal review over a detached, jargon-driven piece any day. Emer makes it clear that a personal approach can also be a critical approach (she is currently doing a PhD at Otago University). Both the personal and the critical can feed off thought and feeling.
The second thing I loved about Emer’s review is that it got me musing. I said in Wild Honey I would like to see a non-Pākehā woman write a book about Māori and/or Pasifika women poets. This is not apologetic nor guilt ridden but me believing I am not the best person for the job. I can’t, for example, wait to see Selina Tusitala Marsh’s volume on Pasifika women poets. Yet it was essential that my poetry house welcomed widely: across cultures, time and place, and writing preferences. I entered the poetry of others, regardless of difference, and listened. Slowly, slowly, slowly. I can never take my reading travels for granted. I hate the idea of being an authority.
Emer rightly suggested I didn’t make similar points about lesbian poetry. I didn’t state, for example, that I would like to see a not-heterosexual woman write a volume that presented lesbian poetry in new and significant lights – because I wasn’t the best person for the job. And I did not write about lesbian poetry (or sexuality or gender) as a particular focus. It is easy to claim this as one of the many things I did not do in the book but Emer’s argument really got me thinking and I loved that. This is what the very best reviews can do.
I felt invigorated by this review and for that I am grateful.