CWILA Expands the Conversation on Our Critical Culture

On June 13, Canadian Women in the Literary Arts (CWILA) launched its official website with a mandate to create a discursive space to address the politics of representation, the critical reception of women’s writing  (including genderqueer writers, indigenous writers, and other women and/or genderqueer writers of colour), and the fostering of stronger critical communities.

On June 29, Michael Lista, poetry editor for The Walrus and poetry columnist for The National Post, posted a response in the National Post’s Afterword to the launch of CWILA, entitled “On Poetry: The Good in Bad Reviews.” Lista first acknowledged the importance of CWILA’s analysis, then shifted focus to critique a single essay published on the CWILA website, Jan Zwicky’s “The Ethics of the Negative Review,” originally published by The Malahat Review in Fall 2003. Perhaps to account for his decision to focus attention on Zwicky’s essay rather than on CWILA’s central mandate, Lista wrote that he was “surprised” to find this essay “framing the CWILA discussion” and proceeded to attack its primary claims.

Lista’s response to Zwicky’s essay sparked a heated conversation. Some CWILA members have expressed concern that in its present incarnation this conversation draws energy and attention away from the specific feminist concerns CWILA was formed to address and redress. Other CWILA members regard verbal violence as an issue central to feminist literary politics and so perceive the conversation to be important. Many CWILA members agree that the discussion has this question as its focus: what kind of review culture do we have, and what kind of review culture do we want to have?

What follows is a list of links to some of the contributions to this conversation—as well as suggestions for further reading.

Jan Zwicky, “The Ethics of the Negative Review

Michael Lista, “On Poetry: The Good in Bad Reviews

Jan Zwicky, “Good, bad—and just plain ugly

Michael Lista, “Five thoughts on Jan Zwicky’s response

La Panique, “Come at me, Bro

Kevin McNeilly, “Shares

Heather Jessup, “Will I give this book a ‘good’ review or a ‘bad’ review? I can promise you that I will endeavour to do neither

Lemon Hound, “On Misdirected Energy

Ross Leckie, “Some Further Thoughts on Negative Reviewing

Emily M. Keeler, “Text/Book: He Said/She Said

E Martin Nolan, “CWILA: What was Lost in the Puppy Fight

Jan Zwicky, “On Critical Culture

Further Reading:

The Awl, Jane Hu, “A Short History Of Book Reviewing’s Long Decline

The Believer, Heidi Julavits, “Rejoice! Believe! Be Strong and Read Hard!

The Chronicle Review, Arthur Krystal, “Should Writers Reply to Reviewers?

The Urge, Stewart Cole, “An Open Address to the Poetry Community in Canada

Spread the word:

About Lisa Martin-DeMoor

Lisa Martin-DeMoor is the author of One crow sorrow, which won the 2009 Alberta Literary Award for Poetry. She is in the process of co-editing an anthology of literary essays on pregnancy and/or parenthood and loss, entitled How to expect what you're not expecting. She blogs, sometimes, at
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5 Responses to CWILA Expands the Conversation on Our Critical Culture

  1. Eva says:

    I was really disappointed that Jan Zwicky included a rape analogy in her latest, “On Critical Culture.” A negative review is in no way comparable to a non-consensual sexual encounter, ie sexual assault. I expected better.

  2. Gillianjerome says:

    Hi Eva,

    It seems to me that you may have misread the analogy. Zwicky says that it’s possible that people who write negative reviews experience a kind of high from writing reviews with a particular kind of verbal aggression. I would like to make it clear as the founder of CWILA that our organization does not support an analogy between negative reviewing and rape, but I also want to repeat that I don’t believe that such an analogy was made by Zwicky in that National Post. CWILA endorses, above all, conversation about reviewing culture.

    Gillian Jerome

    • Eva says:

       Hi Gillian, thanks for the reply!

      I do hope I misread Zwicky, and that she didn’t intend to compare rape and negative reviews. The line I was referring to was a bit below the suggestion of negative reviewers experiencing erotic satisfaction from their takedowns, though. It’s here: “In sexual encounters, our culture condones sadistic behaviour only
      between consenting adults. I see no reason to think that our standards
      should be different for critics and the critiqued.”

      The suggestion seems to be that a negative review is like a sadistic sexual encounter that is lacking in consent, no?

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