How to read poetry blurbs and reviews

An "Intercapillary" Guide for the Perplexed

"dazzling", "full of light" – The reader must wear sunglasses when reading. Beware that some apparently dull poems may show "flashes" of something, who knows what. If the book is entirely "brilliant" then apply sun-cream.

"reaction" – Two poets or traditions have reacted, bubbled over, dried out, or produced a new substance.

"this work was obsolete thirty years ago" – The critic takes a term from discredited forms of eugenics and decides what is and what is not a "dead end".

"cutting-edge" – Be warned that the poet may also have a habit of being "incisive".

"innovative" – The poet has produced something like an iPod.

"brave" – The poet sits at their desk being very brave, thank God.

"tension" – I couldn’t wait to see what happened at the end.

"eye" – The poet has two essential organs: eye and ear. Like Argus the poet has an "eye for detail", an "eye for youth", a "steady eye", a "painterly eye", a "Vermeer-like eye for interiors", and may also have an ear for "speech-patterns" or "music" in general. Rarely does the poet have "a nose for unpleasant odours" though they may have "a sure touch".

"which is hard to pin down exactly" – Tail. Donkey. Book.

"major" – Not minor.

"failed to engage me" – I failed to engage with it.

"fresh" – The poems have been heat-sealed like packets of crisps for extra freshness.

"a real flavour of Italy", "plenty of zest", "something of the flavour of" – The book was properly prepared and the reviewer has clearly tucked in. Five stars.

"failed to engage me" (ii) – The poet proposed but was turned down by the reviewer.

"engaged with History", "has allowed history to enter the poem", "writes back to history", "got back together again with History", "found that history still hadn’t changed", "agreed with History that they’d remain friends"

"painterly poems" - Written at an easel.

"reaction" (ii) – The poet read Pierre Reverdy and got a nasty rash.

"addresses the poet’s roots" – The poet will be going to a different hair stylist next time.

"resonates" – The poems are written on a large bell.

"resonates long after reading" – Tinnitus?

"a broad sweep" – The poet has an eccentric modus operandi which involves housework.

"universal themes" – May contain asteroids.

"perceptive" – The poet is able to distinguish shape from colour, and has a good working knowledge of distance and depth.

"very precise" – The poet does not round up or down when calculating large sums.

"required reading for anyone with an interest in contemporary poetry" – Or else you can go to the back of the class. Yes I'm talking to you.

"no-one is better equipped" – The poet has bought a pen and some paper.

"impossible to ignore" – Poetry which emits a high-pitched whine at all times.

"glowing" - Poems suitable to leave around the bedroom to reassure small children when going to sleep.

"soundings of the depths" - Poems which allow you to tack before running aground, possibly with GPS as well.

"very necessary work" - It was necessary the poet published the book, if their reputation as a currently publishing poet was to be upheld.

"like a palimpsest" - It seemed like recycled paper was used.

"a very generous book" – The poet has included a ten pound note in every copy.

"the language is muscular" – The poet has done the proper stretches before writing.

"startling" – I dropped the book on my foot and was startled by its sheer weight.

X has engaged with / in this book we find "the films of Andrei Tarkovsky, the use of metal in Norwegian folk dress, penguins, Ezra Pound in prison, Jacques-Yves Cousteau, Wittgenstein with a poker, Balinese shadow theatre, Samuel Beckett eating a sandwich, images of genocide, the lyric I, sitting positions in ancient Rome, the French bombing of Greenpeace's Rainbow Warrior in Auckland harbour, a packet of digestive biscuits, the way light speckles the underside of a bridge, someone on a bus" and so on in a list. Poetry itself will probably not be listed.

"concern" – This is my concern, that’s your concern, her concern is that. We are all very concerned. Someone is ill.

"a reading through" – The poet has taken an existing book and cut peep holes in it.

"breaks new ground" – More common than the phrase "breaks in a new pair of shoes", this territorial claim suggests the pressure of an expanding population. How much ground is there before an unsustainable level of deforestation occurs? The alternative is to find "ground the poet has trodden before".

"open work" – The poet is an architect not unaware that a part of the wall could be a door.

"organic form" – The book is covered in soil but it does taste better, you must admit.

Compiled by the "Intercapillary Space" Dictionary Committee

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