Reviewing books for Plumwood Mountain: An Australian Journal of Ecopoetry and Ecopoetics

The following is a short note on some ideas you are asked to keep in mind when reviewing books for Plumwood Mountain journal.

  • Book reviews should be between 1000-2000 words (unless a different arrangement has been made with the managing editor).
  • Please give pages numbers for all quotations from the book under review.
  • Please supply references for all other books and articles to which you refer in your review. These can be given as author-date in text, or using endnotes, and in each case a bibliography of works cited added at the end.
  • Reviews should err on the side of generosity to the book, but should not be hagiographic or read as a publisher’s blurb. Criticism needs to be well-supported and, where possible, constructive.
  • Send reviews as docx, doc or rtf files by email to Anne Elvey:
    submissions.plumwoodmountain@gmail.com

Please note the following points about reviewing for a journal of ecopoetry and ecopoetics. It is important to note that even if the work you are reviewing is not in your opinion ecopoetry, ecopoetic principles can be brought to your review of the work.                     

Ecopoetry is more than “landscape poetry” or “nature writing”. In the making (poiesis) that is poetry, ecopoetry engages with ecological perspectives, questions such as what it means to be human in a more than human world, how we might attend to the other than human in our writing and reading, what it might mean to write the other or to write with the other.

Ecopoetics reads, interprets or critiques poetic (and sometimes other literary and artistic) works from an ecological perspective, asking questions such as:

  • how is the making of the work continuous with the poietic (making) or autopoietic activities of other than human species (e.g. nest building)?
  • how does the work contribute to the making of a dwelling (or place) in which humans are ecologically embedded in a world?
  • how does the work express the limits of language to convey what Tim Norton describes as “the ecological thought”?
  • how does the work express the desire for human oneness with a more than human world? how does the work call this desire into question and reveal its colonising potential? how does the work seek harmony? or unsettle the relationship between humans and their habitat?
  • how does the work related to ecological activism?
  • how does the work engage with or further an ecocentric rather than and anthropocentric perspective?

Works reviewed from an ecopoetic perspective need not themselves be examples of ecopoetry or ecoart.

The “how” part of the above questions can refer to imagery, form, voice, technique and so on. Forrest Gander writes: “What we’ve perpetrated on our environment has certainly affected a poet’s means and material. But can poetry be ecological? Can it display or be invested with values that acknowledge the economy of interrelationship between human and nonhuman realms? Aside from issues of theme and reference, how might syntax, line break, or the shape of a poem on the page express an ecological ethics?” (Forrest Gander and John Kinsella, Redstart: An Ecological Poetics. Contemporary North American Poetry Series. Iowa: University of Iowa Press, 2012, pp. 1-2).

Anne Elvey

13 December 2013 (updated 16 February 2016)

 

Note: many of the ideas in this outline are gleaned from Kate Rigby’s forthcoming encyclopaedia entry on “Ecopoetics”.

2 replies

  1. Thank you to Anthony Lawrence for getting in touch about our reviewer guidelines. Anthony comments on “Plumwood Mountain’s caveat regarding reviewers erring on the side of being positive/generous.” He says, that “unless we rally against the prevailing culture of reviews and reviewers in Australia that say nothing about WHY poems in a collection are successful (or aren’t) then the poet and reading public are being short-changed. Harsh reviews that can back up their criticisms with evidence from the work at hand are hugely beneficial (and can be painful) for the poet. But it’s a wonderful way of drawing attention to crucial matters of craft, technique and influence.” Anthony mentions the way some early negative reviews helped him develop as a poet and hone his work, and that this was a gift, if a difficult one. He says “there’s enough back-slapping and giving false hope already in the poetry world. I believe that too many books are being published, and many of these (often first books) needed a radical edit before seeing the light of day.” He is critical, as we all need be in relation to our own work, of “the all-too prevalent sentimentality and cliches that riddle [much] work.”

    While, Anthony writes “It’s tough. You hone those skills [of editing one’s own work] over many years, and one way of learning is having the work revised honestly. … [Reviewing] is about working closely and respectfully with the work at hand, NOT the poet. No one wants a character assassination. … Our newspapers and magazines contain reviews that skate over the surface-tension of how and why poems are structured. There are some critics who have the wherewithal to do this, but they are thin on the ground. I love reviewing, but I won’t say a book is nice, or good, or well-made or whatever, when it isn’t, just because I’m afraid of hurting someone’s feelings. Poets need to sit alone a lot more, and tough it out with the inner workings of syntax and all the other magical elements that can’t be taught. And learn to take criticism!”

    I love that last bit, “Poets need to sit alone a lot more, and tough it out with the inner workings of syntax and all the other magical elements that can’t be taught.” Yes, and the hard part: learning to accept criticism.

    Regarding our caveat about erring on the side of generosity, which to me is not necessarily the same thing as being unrelentingly positive, I mean two things, one is about what Anthony says above “working closely and respectfully with the work at hand”; the second is about tone: a review can deliver critical assessment without unnecessary harshness. This latter can be hard for reviewers passionate about poetry and the craft and technique of poetry, wanting each poem to be the finest thing it can be.

    I like this from Seamus Heaney who makes a distinction between craft and technique. Craft, he writes, “is what you can learn from other verse”, whereas technique “involves not only a poet’s way with words, his [sic] management of metre, rhythm and verbal texture; it involves also a definition of his stance towards life, a definition of his own reality.” As Heaney comments, some poets may have strong technique and “wobbly” craft. (See Seamus Heaney, “Feeling into Words”, in Preoccupations: Selected Prose 1968–1978 [London: Faber and Faber, 1980], 47.)

    In the context of this journal, there are also questions about how the poem relates to a world, such as concerning the poem as a material thing embedded in, speaking into and from its habitats, and the way the world (with its ecological complexities of damage, beauty and much else) acts in and speaks into a poem.

    Anne Elvey
    Managing Editor

    Like

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