Editors' Note on Book Reviews

We are always happy to hear from our readers, and for the most part what we hear is good. You like the selection of poems and prose, the interconnections between pieces within issues and the way one issue speaks to the next. The sense of community and warmth we strive to convey and embody is, according to you, coming through loud and clear. We’re glad to hear it.

One specific area we have received more flak over than any other: our book review section. We want to take a little space to explain ourselves, and our reviewers. We deliberate about every review we publish. While we include reviews that are less than wholly positive, we encourage our reviewers to offer balanced views on the books they write about. When we receive a negative review, we make comments and often ask for a revision. Sometimes a reviewer declines to revise, and the review is not published. Some reviewers respond with more detailed, and also less evaluative, pieces.

From the poet’s perspective, it’s important to remember that the decision to publish a book is a decision to make the work public, with all that implies. In our opinion, however, no book review should be read as the voice of authority on any given book; it likewise does not imply agreement on the part of the editors of VW. It’s simply one reader’s best go at trying to understand a writer’s project. For the reviewer to believe they speak with final authority would be either misguided or delusional, and we don’t believe that our reviewers think that way. For the poet—or the loyal VW reader— to accept a review as the final word is ceding too much to one individual reviewer. What we’re after, in all of our reviews as well as other prose, is a conversation among equals. 

Even as we strive to be a kind and even gentle venue, we want to encourage people to be critical of their own work as poets. We are also trying to encourage and support book reviewers. In every case, we want to extend a hand to those who are well-known and accomplished, and those who are just starting out.Our decisions are not lightly made, and we expend considerable time and effort trying to balance competing interests and viewpoints.

We do not believe it would be prudent, or of service to the community of writers, to publish only positive reviews. Would you trust us, as a venue, if we did? The careful attention of a reviewer is a high compliment to the poet in and of itself. If a reviewer takes issue with perceived weakness in a poet’s work, and takes time to point this out, it is because he feels the poet is capable of writing better. We welcome responses to the reviews in VW (or our decision to publish them) for publication. As we said above, what we’re after is conversation among equals.