Editors (either in the mainstream media, or as far mainstream as these things get, or in small journals) generally (and understandably) take publication as a poet as a requisite qualification for publication as a critic; poets generally (and understandably) write criticism to promote their new book of poems and to take part in the community. This situation leads to issues which I have been thinking about.
Few published poets write good criticism, as they are often prone to comfort criticism which is either affective or overly and comfortably formal. Of course, a sizeable number of talented poets are talented critics, but it doesn’t always correlate. This is because criticism is a separate skill, and although there is the best chance of finding this skill amongst ‘published poets’ than amongst any other demographic, it isn’t certain. Additionally, few poets wish to damn rather than praise, as in the small poetry world any target is a possible future reviewer of one’s own work (if they are not a friend already). And furthermore, few editors of small magazines want to either intimidate readers with ‘hard’ criticism — in the sense of negative, or in the sense of difficult — or to alienate poets (who make up the majority of their readership). Whilst these are all sensible reasons, it still seems a shame that so few published reviews seem willing to embrace a little danger.
I was talking with someone last week about how anti-establishment, if it is successful, becomes establishment, and how once one is inside the building one feels less inclined to throw stones at the windows. Most discussions of contemporary poetry overstate the presence of a mainstream, or of an inside and an outside; however, I do think there is a need for sufficient distance between poet and critic which is not being served at present.