I like reviewing books. Well, I like it once the first draft is done. The first draft is a pain, but then it's sheer fun, fiddling with it. And I have just finished 500 or so words on a new poetry book, which I have made myself file away until tomorrow when I can reread what I've written like someone else's work (this gets harder at each stage of revision).
There are touchy political issues in reviewing. You want to be honest, but the world of poetry books is small and reasonably paranoiac and it is generally not a good idea to make enemies. (How i did Michael Hofmann have the courage to review Martin Amis's new book as he so pungently does in the latest LRB?) In fact, it would be better if poetry books were not reviewed by poets, just as films are not usually reviewed by filmmakers.
Mostly the books I get to review are neither very good nor very bad; they are in that middle ground, and they make you wonder--for yourself as much as anything--why they aren't better, what would make them better. Is it lack of nature or lack of nurture? I would like to figure this out and also maybe say something helpful to the writer--though, like me, she will hate anything less than superlative, and especially advice from someone whose right to criticize is hardly a given.
I have another book to review. I haven't looked at it yet; the problem is going to be the sensational background to some of the material. Suicide, terminal illness, child abuse--throw them into the poetry pot and it changes everything.
A little humour goes a long way.