2013-06-29 10.58.55

The impetus behind this blog is praise. I hope it comes across.

I made a vow that I would use it thus when I began it, first on Posterous and now WordPress. That’s how Lifesaving Poems began, as a way of saying thank you to poets I’d encountered in poems that had knocked me sideways, and the poets, teachers and friends who had introduced me to them.

Several years ago I made the mistake of reviewing some poetry books of my peers somewhat unkindly. Both the judgements I made and the tone I made them in. I was unkind. On occasion I even took pleasure in it. I shouldn’t have done it. But I did. I regret it, and I am sorry.

If you are one of the writers I injured: I am sorry.

Another vow. I will review books. But only to praise. (There are some in the pipeline by the way).

I thought of this at a funeral of man I did not know well last week. We learned that as a young man he had seen great suffering at first hand, as a young officer in the army. His response was not to live a life of bitterness but of seeking to do good for others less fortunate than himself. As Anthony Quinn said about Raymond Carver ‘he had every reason to brood yet preferred to be grateful’.

There is sorrow. There is regret. But there is also gratitude: ‘I’m grateful to you, you see. I wanted to tell you’ (Carver, ‘For Tess’).


    1. Thank you so much for your kind comment.
      Ann Sansom once said to me that writing when you are tired is the best time because there is less chance of the censoring conscious mind taking over. The chances are what you say will be true and necessary.
      With grateful good wishes, Yours, Anthony


  1. I agree with Joanna Paterson, absolutely it comes across. I can’t imagine you hurting anyone (even though we’ve never met). I’m looking forward to reading your reviews. I find reviews helpful, like maps guiding me towards interesting towns with hints about what to look out for in that town. And (enough with the metaphors) I imagine that your reviews will be precise and rigorous and specific because (since you’re being honest) I admit to being fed up with reading bland, non-specific praiseful reviews. I’m guilty of doing this myself and perhaps it’s because it’s difficult not to use the word ‘wonderful’ if you want to get across (in a tweet, for example) that you really like a poem or collection. So I’m hoping to learn more about writing reviews from reading your reviews. There is of course a difference between hurtfulness and criticism and I’ve experienced it up close (although it was never directed specifically at my work). When I did my MA, our work was published in an anthology and reviewed in The Times. The first words of the review were “What sadist persuaded these young hopeful to rush into print?” (many of us weren’t young or feeling particularly hopeful). The reviewer had a book out and managed to weave the title of the book into the body of the article. Not that it would matter to this person but I’ve never bought anything they’ve written. I have, though, bought your books Anthony and I love your blog. It’s wonderful 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dear Josephine
      Thank you so much for your kind comments (and apologies for a slow reply, I have been away).
      They mean a great deal to me.
      I think my favourite ever reviewer was Ian McMillan in the old Poetry Review (ie Peter Forbes) days.
      In the words of Raymond Carver he used to stand and stare at this or that thing with simple amazement and wonder, going Wow, Thank you, Yes, That’s it! They were models of precision and excitement. I’ve no idea who wrote your review and I don’t need to know. I won’t read anyone any more whose tone is bullying or more about themselves than the work. We’ve had enough top-downism for a generation. Let the bulbs of praise begin to grow!
      As ever with grateful good wishes

      Liked by 1 person

  2. ‘I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams’. W.B.Yeats

    I love this quote, but the reality is that anyone who creates and then makes the decision to share their creation, must know they have laid their heart and soul open to all comers… the tough bit is standing firm for whatever follows – be it brickbats or roses.

    No-one can please all of the peeps all of the time Ant … you are a fine writer, an excellent teacher and a kind and caring chap, and I’m sure you never would never have purposely set out to hurt anyone.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well you are kind to say so Babs. Maybe no one else sees it, but I know I have crossed the line on occasion. Now it is time to praise. There is so much out there to say Wow! about.
      As ever, A xx


  3. Thanks for this, Anthony. Actually, you have made me feel better because some years ago I too was asked to review some books. I disliked all of them and sent them back to the editor saying that I couldn’t review them because I didn’t have a good word to say about any of them. But the fact that they had found a publisher suggested that someone else would ‘get the point’ of them where I couldn’t, hence the editor should send them to another reviewer who could give a fairer assessment. Since then, I have sometimes worried that actually, I was wrong not to write those bad reviews, because otherwise journals are just clogged with reviews that are full of praise and it becomes a dishonest, unbalanced business. However, reading your blog, I see that where I worried because I hadn’t wanted to write mean things about someone else’s poems, you were worrying because you had…and I actually agree with you – why make someone’s day miserable? And why put some readers off poems that they might enjoy (even if one doesn’t oneself). Maybe kindness is more important than honesty sometimes. On the other hand, I have quite often wasted good money by buying a book that had an ecstatic review, only to realise that in fact the review was dishonest hype, sometimes it was an exercise in mutual back-scratching, and that is pretty unpalatable too. Hmmm.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Clarissa
      and thank you so much for your kind comments.
      My attitude to dong reviews is … I think I have wasted enough life and energy being unkind, so now only want to spend time pointing out the good in the things I like. My attitude to reading reviews is slightly more demanding. I want to know that the person writing the review has really read the book and made a judgement based on what the poet has tried to do -either in terms of their body of work as a whole or where the new work is taking them. Very very little of what I see does this. As I say to Josephine below, here, I loved what Ian McMillan used to do at PR (is he still doing it?) -using it to praise, with lots of quotations, so you could make up your own mind as a reader. Very little of this goes on as well. I think you were right to send the books back, for what it is worth. It sent a message I hope. As ever with best wishes and sorry for the slow reply -I have been away, Anthony


  4. Thanks for this, Anthony. And everyone for their interesting comments already. I’ve only occasionally written reviews of poetry collections, or review-ish pieces, on my blog. It’s not the TLS, after all, so if I read a book I really disliked, I would just not review it. There would be no point to me. (Don’t get me wrong, I do have mean impulses and can be unkind! But it plays out otherwise in my life than in writing about poetry!). However, if you’ve released a book, it’s “out there”, and I don’t think anyone should expect 100% positivity. I’d certainly still be willing to write about a book if I felt generally positive about it, or loved most of it, but then felt I had to say “however, such and such poems were definitely weaker” or “the premise of the book is somewhat undermined by…” etc etc. I like to try to be honest about things, but yes, honesty and kindness can still go hand in hand. And it’s possible to criticise fairly alongside praise. I also agree with Jenny Swann’s comment that falling for what turns out to be “dishonest hype” can be most frustrating!

    Your blog really is consistently interesting and sort of…warming. I relate to it more than many other poetry blogs I read (ie. the format often being simply writing about a poem you’ve loved, and how it fits into your life) so it is something of an inspiration too.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Another lovely blog post. It can apply to so much more then just reviews – why be unkind if you can find something nice to say? Of course it’s helpful to know if some of your work has faults, but bad reviews that simply say the work is terrible help nobody. You have a lovely blog – there are not many blogs I add to my blogroll and actually read regularly.. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am so sorry not to have replied earlier to you Kerridwen. Please forgive my rudeness. I have now added your blog to my RSS feeder. Marvellous stuff and thank you! With good wishes, Anthony


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