Perloff Schmerloff

Interview from 2006

But on the whole, poets-as-reviewers are too biased; they have their agenda. To assign Charles Bernstein’s poetry to Glyn Maxwell, as the Times Literary Supplement did, is to ask for a negative review, and a snide one at that. The converse is also true: when Robert Pinsky is asked to review, say, Czeslav Milocz, he is obviously going to treat the Polish Nobel Prize winner, with whom he worked at Berkeley, with veneration. So one hardly gets an objective view. But I wouldn’t mind the lack of objectivity so much, if the reviewer were well informed and that’s too often not the case.

The nadir of reviewing, these days, is the New York Times Book Review. A recent issue carried a review of Elias Canetti’s posthumous The Party In The Blitz, the fifth installment of his autobiography, partly in note and diary form. I reviewed it for Bookforum, and found it to be fascinating. The Times gave the book to the notoriously snide, clever British (originally Australian) Clive James, a “big name”. I found his review almost libelous. He called Canetti a “twerp” and made fun of him. It was a case of THE REVENGE OF THE BRITS against a book by a Central European who dared criticize some of them. What a choice for reviewer!

Because, you see, Perloff is right and if James, whom I don’t particularly like myself, although he can be somewhat amusing, doesn’t agree with that he’s wrong. As easy as that. Because, you know, literary critics don’t have an agenda, why else would it make sense mentioning the poets’ agenda. Because, you see, Perloff’s proliferate output doesn’t show a clear bias every step of the way. No, wait…

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