A New Review Brings Up a Topic for Discussion

Today, a new review of Kin Types was published here at Jorie Loves a Story. 

This review is very cool in how she interprets so many of the poems. She shows a wonderful sense of what each piece is about.

Then at the end, Jorie inserts what is essentially a caveat, what she calls “Fly in the Ointment: Content Note.” She takes exception to my inclusion of a case of animal cruelty and murder in the poem “Once and Now.”

As you might guess, I really “get” her complaint and her sensitivity to harm to animals. Animals mean the world to me (in a literal sense, as well as figurative).

The poet in me, though, felt a need to not turn away from where the poem simply had to go. It’s a poem about war, in this case WWI. And it’s about zenophobia, a fear of foreigners, which showed itself as cruelty to immigrant Germans. That a dog suffers is typical of how war can work. What happens to the animals, both wild and in homes and zoos, when battles are fought?

But it’s not a poem about the dog. The dog is a very real dog who suffered, and the people are real people who suffered, and the dog is also a metaphor. Ok, that’s my “defense.” But I can truly see her point. It’s kind of like Facebook, who wants to go there and see petition requests with photos and comments about animals being harmed? (guilty)

What is YOUR opinion? Should I have left out the dog?

34 Comments

Filed under #AmWriting, #writerlife, #writerslife, Book Review, Family history, Flash Nonfiction, History, Kin Types, Memoir, Nonfiction, Poetry, Poetry book, Poetry Collection, Writing

34 responses to “A New Review Brings Up a Topic for Discussion

  1. They are your poems. What we think is immaterial. The reviewer had her point but at the end of the day you wrote it and if you wanted the dog in it should stay in.

    • I agree with John. We all know that you are the last person who would ever be cruel, but talking about what goes on in the real world just makes you sensible and practical . As long as we are not being offensive and insensitive when we discuss (or write about) those things, I think it’s important to be real. If you want to write about something, it’s your prerogative, and readers who don’t want to read it don’t have to read it. I’m a realist myself and I suspect some people who read my books don’t like so much truth, but it’s how the world is.

    • Yes, and I need to examine my motives. I’ve examined them ;), and think they are valid. But I do think we need to think about the reader. If we want them to pay for a book, we need to give them something of valuable. IMO, it wouldn’t be valuable if I held back. Yup? So the dog stays in.

  2. I don’t think we can ‘clean up’ the effects of war. WWI almost lost the bloodlines of some of the most magnificent animals: horses, dogs, fowl, etc. Either eaten, left to starve, poisoned (just like the humans, really). See war for what it was and what it is – murder, disgust, mayhem, death both slow and fast, evil and heart-breaking. Feel it, deep in your bones, and remember how it felt to that dog, to the many men/women/children abandoned by hope and life, to the future readers who will never smell what it was, nor will they understand the need to do the necessary things to move on, stay alive, get away …
    You won, though, because of the words used: ‘explicit imagery’ – because that’s what it’s all about.
    Just my opinion, but I don’t think we should sugar-coat how it used to be.

    • Wow, Cage. One small thing, I just used your wording above (“sugar-coat”) unintentionally! But to the important: what an amazingly well put expression of the horrors of war! Really, I wish I had written what you just wrote. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. I agree with John. And a review is a review – it is an opinion. As with all opinions, it usually says more about the opinion giver than the recipient if you get my point…. However that is an aside. If you start catering to opinions where will that lead? Being an animal lover doesn’t mean we should turn aside from reality and as your poems and prose are fact based it is inevitable the sensitivity in me, and in any reader, may well be bruised. Just as it is – or should be – when we witness any act of cruelty or indifference on the street. I now have this book in my cart on Book Depository – I’m slowly inching my way to being able to afford to hit the checkout icon. Every review heightens my desire to read it. 🙂

    • Hehehe, thanks, Pauline! I actually really love Jory’s review. I think she did a phenomenal job of describing what she found in each piece. It interested me what she wrote about the dog because it is a dilemma in all writing. I joked about Facebook, but every day I sign about 10 petitions for animal rights (mainly I get them by email). I post maybe 3 of them per week on FB. So that seems small to me, but to so many of my FB friends, they DON’T want to see sad stories about animals. So they ignore them, ignore me, and don’t sign the petitions. I find it sad for the animals because, guess what, the petitions actually work. But I completely understand why people don’t want to be blindsided with cruelty in their daily lives. Life is just hard enough. You say it so well when you use the word bruised. Yes, very bruised. But that’s how we don’t just “give in,” ya know? Thanks so much as usual!

  4. The world can be cruel. Our fiction has a right to reflect that just as readers have a right to not read it. Like both you and the reviewer, animal cruelty upsets me, as does violence to children. I tend to skim past those passages.

    Some reviewers commented on the violence in my second novel. I actually liked that, because it helps other readers decide whether or not it might be for them. So in that sense, side notes like this in reviews can be very helpful. We have to write honestly, and sometimes that takes people out of their comfort zone.

    • I like what you say about taking people out of their comfort zone. I wouldn’t dream of having censored the poem. It wanted to go there, and it had to go there. I don’t like upsetting someone who cares about animals because we only need more people in the world who do, but yes, that wouldn’t be a reason not to write it. I don’t think we can just ignore our readers though. We have to keep them in mind because without readers why are we writing?

  5. As my grandmother always said, “To each his own.” There’s not author out there that will ever please everyone. You wrote the poem, so you had the right to either include it or not.

    • That’s a very practical way of thinking about it, Jill! No, we can never please everyone, and even if we could would we be writing the story or poem honestly? But I like having to stop and think about things like this so that I keep in mind that readers have points, too.

  6. I think elements of cruelty and violence are necessary when war is involved. Peppered-in.
    It’s your book, you can write what you want to.
    I agree with Carrie’s comment about how particulars, plus and minus, help guide other readers.
    Same with FB. I am upset by animals in distress and I have blocked many of the pages that need help because I can’t take it. However, it’s your FB, and you should post as you please.

    • Yeah, re Facebook. It’s my page and I can do what I want. In fact, I think (nobody asked, I know) that people shouldn’t c**p on other people’s Facebook pages either, meaning if somebody posts something on their own page, nobody should pick a fight or say something derogatory, etc. Say it on your page, not somebody else’s. But with a book, I do think we need to keep the reader in mind a bit. Not ever quash the truth, but we can’t just do whatever we want and sell it to somebody, ya know? It needs to be the best art, the best truth we can muster if we are going to put a pricetag on it. Ya think?

      • Mmm, nah. LOL I mean, I see your point about the best truth, best art, but people do sell books that I don’t like, and people don’t like the books I read, and that’s true for all art. It’s your book, it’s your truth.
        I agree about the “do it on your own page” stuff. I don’t mind to be teased playfully, or hear opinions unlike my own, but no derogatory crap for me, thanks.

        • Re Facebook, yup. It sucks when somebody stops in and says something mean. It’s like hit and run.
          Re book, sort of. I mean, it’s my truth, but it has to be my truth, you know? Sometimes people publish stuff that is not meaningful to the writer or to the reader, and yet they ask for money. That seems almost like a scam to me. It’s different if I don’t like a book. For instance, I couldn’t stand Olive Kitteridge which “everyone” else loves, but I don’t regret paying for the book. I understand it just wasn’t my cup of tea. But when I read a book riddled with errors that has little redeeming content, I get pissed about paying for it.

  7. Interesting question, and I think it’s also timely in light of the mores of the day. Can you make art of anything? Is it okay to find humour in tragedy? Can you separate the art from the artist? The answer, to me, is yes to all of the above. Context is everything. But then it becomes highly individual for the audience: not everyone wants/is able to stomach such things. That does not mean they should be banned or that you should not write about them. Good on you for having the courage of your (poet’s) convictions!

  8. I agree with the rest, so I will not add to that theme.

    However, I am puzzled by one thing the reviewer wrote – she said, “I wish I had skipped over this one.” Well, then, I asked myself, why didn’t she? Perhaps your writing was simply too compelling, too powerful to pull away?

    The reviewer has added a post script regarding this very discussion and reveals that her reaction was based on the memory a cherished pet of the very breed described in your poem. Obviously, her reaction was highly personal and completely understandable.

    Would *I* have squirmed and regretted the reading? Quite likely. But would I have added a “fly-in-the-ointment” caveat to a review? Not so sure on that. If anyone asked how I liked that particular poem, I’d say, “It made me uncomfortable because of the content, but I cannot fault the writer for that.”

    Would I mention it in a public book review? Probably not. “Fly in the ointment” means the entire body of material is tainted, even with an explanation from the reviewer. I think it boils down to a choice of words.

  9. But poetry is not about political correctness. It can confront us with all kinds of difficult things: that’s its function. So no, I don’t agree with the reviewer.

  10. I just finished copyediting a very good memoir by a Special Ops veteran who was badly wounded in Afghanistan. In the course of the book, two military working dogs are killed in action. So is a dog who’s part of the K9 unit of a US police force. Quite a few people are killed or wounded too. None of it is glorified. Yes, some of it’s hard to read, but I don’t expect books about war to be all sweetness and light. Hell, I don’t expect much of anything to be all sweetness and light. (For another project I’m currently reading memoirs and fiction about slavery in the US.)

    I do expect serious writers, regardless of genre, to grapple with the difficult subjects that come their way. If something about a work made me uncomfortable, would I mention it in a review? It depends — on how important it was to the work, and on the source of my uneasiness, among other things. But it’s hard for me to imagine telling a writer that I don’t think a poem, story, or scene should have been included in the book because it made me uncomfortable.

  11. Stick to what you wrote. Sounds like the issue was taken out of context.

  12. I believe the writer has every right to include what she or he feels important or emotional about. Luanne, I don’t review everything part of a book since I prefer to tempt or entice others to read and decide on their own what makes an impact upon themselves. . . 😊 Good idea to create discussion since it helps you to cement your own “stand.”

  13. The older I get the more sensitive I become to hearing awful things about animals – I tend not to watch nature documentaries anymore because of the way they seem to focus on the sad or graphic stories, and I tend not to read fiction about animals as I’m always waiting for the sad part! This is the girl who used to have posters on her wall of vivisection and factory farming because I believed in animal rights. But still, although I can’t say I liked the image, it should have been in there because it was part of the horror of war.

  14. HI Luanne! I don’t know the answer to your question, but my response is to say, kudos for following your voice and for putting what you felt was important into the work that you created. In some of my blog posts of fiction I have thought through “cleaning up” a sad or distressing line, and in the end, usually it changes the work if I do that. There is a courage to the poet’s voice and you’ve demonstrated that. Kudos!

    • Thanks, Theresa. You make a lot of sense about changing the work when you get rid of something distressing. It was hard to write such pointless cruelty (not sure there is ever a point to cruelty, but you know what I mean). It’s so sick when we drag animals into our petty human battles.

      • Yes, I think you are expressing what I was thinking as well. The courage you have as an artist to have brought that into the piece – not gratuitously but authentically – is to be applauded! Kudos!

  15. I can’t refer to the poem where I am right now but, in any case, if the dog is part of your poem, it’s part of your poem. I’m highly sensitive when it comes to cruelty to animals (can’t watch it in movies, on TV, or view photos on FB, even for a good cause). If what I’m reading includes references/descriptions of cruelty, I might gloss over the words. I know I didn’t do that with any of your poems which means to me that that poem might not have worked without the dog. I’m glad you have so much support for not censoring your writing.

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