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Comment — January 13

Honest Criticism: the challenges of critiquing within a spoken word scene

By Benjamin Solah

One of the things Melbourne Spoken Word is going to try and focus on more in 2017 is the culture of critical discussion and writing about spoken word. Since we relaunched the website in 2015, we’ve had a few people review books, gigs and albums from around the scene but it’s never quite taken off as planned. I wrote in 2015 about the challenges of reviewing spoken word as an art form. But another element of this is how we go about having open and honest critical discussions about each other’s work as a close-knit community of artists.

So far, most of the reviews we’ve published have been wholly positive. Many of the reviews have been written by friends of the artist, or artists find someone they know to review the work. This isn’t in line with other publications that require minimal correspondence between the producer of the work and the reviewer, so it’s unbiased and as objective as possible. We’ve tried to address this by asking that reviews go through us. This is extra hard for us to avoid because most poets within the scene know each other.

“Friendly” reviews take on more of an explanatory role, almost advertorial in nature, describing a work they like and highlighting it for the rest of the community to engage with. This is one way of reviewing work, but another one that I think is beneficial and would enrich our artform is going beyond the surface level and having more critical discussions in a mature way. The issue is: how would poets react to critical or even somewhat negative writing about their work? How would you react if someone reviewed your chapbook and said some of the pieces fell flat in places, for example, or critiqued your work in depth? I think poets would react differently to this. Some might take the criticism on board or accept it as a difference of opinion, a different approach to the art form. Some might take it more personally or as an offence.

The point isn’t to