The Dis-interesting Art of Criticism

Social media has given us great things, it has brought a wide world of poets, writers, editors and publishers together but for some poets, some writers and few editors and publishers it has released the inner troll. We often forget, neglect or just plain ignore the fact that there is someone alive behind your directed witty but often flawed jibes. This level of criticism, the odd roaming troll, the bigot, the fool, and the know-it-all-but-read-sod-all has always been rather boring to me. It is a hangover from the dial-up era when people frustrated at the amount of time it took them to watch online porn left filthy comments on people’s pages. It was literally like they’d roamed over to your space and unloaded their bile all over their keyboards, in the vain attempt it would somehow crush you. The real-time equivalent would be them urinating through your letterbox.

Then, now and again, there is an escalation. It drips poisonous down from critics who have reviewed books or collections, critics who may not have enjoyed it as much as the writer and poet did in creating it. It is the bad review. This happens, and often it is not personal, a bad review can often be a well-balanced review. A bad review can sell books. Someone once said of me that my work, ‘Belonged in strip clubs’. It adorned all my publicity for years and got me more work than I could shake a stick at. A bad review can applaud the successes and point out the short comings, if in the hands of a well-balanced critic. Dan Brown has had thousands of bad reviews and hasn’t quit. Neither has King. Even Salinger has his fair share of acid tongue reviews. Heaney, Hughes and our present Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, have all be victim of the barbed word. Yet, even though they may have fumed silently, sometimes publicly, it did not stop them from writing. There is a long history of a love/hate relationship between writers and critics. Often this is down to personal reasons, one critic fumed at a certain poet over his sloppy sentence structure because that poet had run away with his wife. In the eighteenth century one critic ended up with a venereal disease after a night with a writer. Whether this goes on today is to be seen, thanks to pre-nubs and modern medicine. But rather than a pox on the critic for dismissing the poet or writer shouldn’t we embrace it? Turn it back into a dialogue between critic and creative? What concerns me is that on Facebook and Twitter you see a running diatribe back and forth between critic and poet, the critic often maligned for doing their job, the poet somehow waving the flag that all poetry was torn from their soul. That is the matinée at the coliseum, it is a half dead circus with mouldy bread. It is a lie. No matter how much you are criticised, and criticised you will be, for that is the role of the critic (the giveaway is in the name), you can do two things, (1) Ignore it and get on with your bloody writing, (2) Get drawn into it and defend your writing publicly and professionally. However, so many today have confused social media as a way to troll, to reach back and spill their bile across our walls, to piss through all our letter boxes, they choose to (3) Throw their toys out of the pram and swear.

I was always taught that the moment you swear in an argument you’ve lost. Fuck off. The moment you make it personal in argument you reveal to the world what a nasty, vain little shit you are. Stick to writing and see a therapist or better still, find love. Save us from mass blockings on Facebook and a loud cavalcade of bitching about people who cannot defend themselves because they can’t see what you are saying. Frankly though it wouldn’t make a difference, some people make their minds up and that’s it, which is rather worrying for the future of writing and criticism. Give me a good critical argument not a social needy one, and if you don’t like that, you have every right to go and read something else, I hear the latest Stephen King novel is wonderful.

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