Full Disclosure....naked snarkieness

ArtsJournal.com carries a link from The Guardian
today for an article about Foetry.com.

We'll cut them some slack for being late to the party, the Foetry.com scandal is
really old news, but this reminds me of some things I've been thinking about
concerning this emphasis on "full disclosure".

First, is the fact that Foetry blogger Alan Cordle is married to a poet relevant to the work he did exposing the cozy set up of poetry contests? What's the difference between someone outing Alan Cordle as the cloaked Foetry blogger and Cordle's outing of Jorie Graham's connection to the winners of contests she judged?

Akin to this is
Quinn Dalton
writing at Media Bistro about anonymous reviewers.
She's unhappy with the Kirkus review of Bulletproof Girl and would like to know who wrote it so she can see if the reviewer had some sort of agenda. (Thanks to Jessa for the link)

Hard on the heels of all this is
Scott Cantrell writing in the Dallas Morning News about classical music composers sorted out by their sexual preference.

All this leads to the big question: what do we need to know about the people who write the stories, the news, or create the art?

Does it make a difference to know Leonard Bernstein was gay to appreciate his music?
Does it make a difference to know who wrote a Kirkus review?
Does it make a difference to know Jorie Graham was involved with (and later married) one of the poets she selected for a poetry contest prize?

My answers: no, sort of, yes.

The fact that Leonard Bernstein was gay, straight, or a closet Republican doesn't matter to me. I love his work and I respect his contribution to the field. Same goes for Wagner, whom many people still cannot forgive for being a favorite of Hitler, even though Wagner was long
dead when Hitler rose to power. West Side Story and Parsifal are works of art apart from their
creator and can be judged or appreciated on their own merits. Wagner being an anti Semite or Bernstein being gay doesn't change a single note of their work.

The reviews in Kirkus are written not for readers to make up their mind about whether to buy or read a book but to influence booksellers. There's a chance of economic damage to an author if a review is negative. That being said, Kirkus and Publisher's Weekly are professional companies and their own reputations depend on being seen as fair-minded. The current set up means it's a Kirkus review, not an individual review.

Kirkus has no vested interest in the success or failure of Bulletproof Girl or any other book. Their vested interest is in writing reviews that help booksellers.

If Quinn Dalton thinks her negative review was unjustified, she should make a hundred copies and send it to every book reviewer in the United States and say "Kirkus if full of crap and I bet you'll see why when you read the book". I haven't made a study of the good or bad reviews in Kirkus or PW to see if either of them have a slant. If Quinn Dalton wants me to take up her battle she better have more ammunition than "this is a bad review I don't deserve". I work with musicians and writers on a daily basis and trust me (ha!) none of them think they are deserving of a bad review.

Jorie Graham giving a poetry prize to a poet she's romantically involved with, and then apparently lying about it, is just ugly. Contest judges are presumed to be distant from the competitors. You can't even enter a random drawing on Cocoa Puffs Prize giveaways if you work for the Cocoa Puffs people, or the media company handling the contest. Should poetry hold itself to a lower standard than cereal?

Poetry contests have a HUGE vested interest in attracting lots of entries and a big name judge: it's how they earn their money.

What makes the outing of Foetry blogger Alan Cordle so noxious is that it's clear to me anyway that people tried to use that to discredit him. Yes, some of his claims of collusion were reminiscent of conspiracy theorists, but he also pointed out some very clear violations of any objective standards in several high profile poetry contests.

Disclosure for the sake of revealing skullduggery even if inadvertent, and disclosure for the sake of trying to silence or embarrass someone are two really different things: like the difference between art and pornography -- hard to define, but I know it when I see it.


Ron said...

"The reviews in Kirkus are written not for readers to make up their mind about whether to buy or read a book but to influence booksellers."

True, but thanks to the licensing deals online stores like Amazon and Powells have had with Kirkus and PW, the audience for those reviews has expanded in ways that don't necessarily complement the PW/Kirkus mission.

One thing I've tried to do--perhaps not consistently, or consistently well--is to balance the "will this sell? why (not)?" with the "so is it any good?" in a way that I guess I'd summarize as "If I were still working in a bookstore, and somebody held the book up and asked for my no-holds barred opinion, assuming I'd read it, what would I say?"

Miss Snark said...

I agree with Ron- who normally I like to think of as MrBeatrice (http://www.beatrice.com)- but in this case I think I'm going to split hairs. The fact that PW reviews and Kirkus reviews are USED by publishers in Amazon listings or on jacket blurbs to draw customers, does not mean that Kirkus and PW intend that when they write reviews. Like using a cigar for a sex toy....ya you can do it but is Nat Sherman responsible when you go up in flames?

Anonymous said...

A little late for the party, dunno if you're still checking these, but ... I got a fine review in Kirkus. A starred review in Library Joural. And a hellacious wrist-slitting review in PW.

You really recommend I send the crap review to a hundred reviewers? The idea totally appeals to me, but I'm notoriously idiotic. Hell, I still think Harry Potter is a children's book.

Miss Snark said...

Bad reviews are usable if you use them right.
I've seen blurbs lists with three glowing, and then one just wretchedly awful review. The value of that is the unexpected. Blurbs are ya ya ya until you see "this book should be banned from the face of the earth and everyone who worked on it should turn in their sheepskins and go back to work slinging hash where they can at least be useful.".

Sending out a bad review headlined "don't show this to my mom, she'll rip this guy's arms off and beat him into submission" is much more interesting than
"this book is a terrific read".

The entire Lemony Snicket ad campaign is based on that. It's tough to do correctly. But done right, it's eye catching, funny, and newsworthy...three things any PR girl gets hot about. PR boys too.