How much can you know about a movie, a book, a poem from a snippet, be it a trailer, the first page, the first few lines? Joan Houlihan in Contemporary Poetry Review makes the case that the quality of a poet’s work can be determined with some accuracy by “previewing” a poem’s first few lines.

Her bottom line could be seen as an extreme position:

As we move into the next decade, it seems very likely that a subset of all published poetry will, like music, become readily experienced or viewed for free, and that readers will “sample” poems and make any buying decisions based on these samples. Readers will become sophisticated enough in their own judgments, or tuned in enough to trusted recommenders wherever and however encountered, and soon the disappearance of reviews in mainstream periodicals won’t be missed. It may even turn out that the book of poems as physical object no longer holds us, cannot maintain its presence through the next ten years, cannot justify its 65 or more pages of poems all bound into one place—we might instead purchase only 5 or 10 poems at once, or a “mixed tape” of poems we love, or a subset of poems by a favorite poet. The packaging and distribution mechanisms are already in place; we, the readers, will only need to become proficient at making our own selections. Just be sure to read the first lines before you buy.

She employes her poetic critiquing skills on four recently published poetry volumes—Word Comix by Charlie Smith, The History of Forgetting by Lawrence Raab, Blind Rain by Bruce Bond and Trust by Liz Waldner. While you may not agree with her assessment of these four writers, I found the article worth the read. The poems of the last two, Bond and Waldner, particularly interested me. More of them to come.

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