I don’t understand why Hollywood insists on marketing movies by comparing them to other movies: “It’s Die Hard meets 2001: A Space Odyssey!” “It’s this year’s Shindler’s List!” Well, I do understand why, but I don’t like the idea that the only way to describe something positively is to compare it to something else that was previously good. It feels lazy and presumptuous and insulting to my intelligence.
Book sellers do something similar when they group together all the books about women who overcame an addiction by blogging or pets who buoyed their owners through cancer treatment. As though the quality of a book is determined not by the quality of the writing but by the combination of ingredients thrown into the plot. Publishers and reviewers to it, too, when they slap something on a book jacket about if you loved this, then you’ll love that, as though there can only be a few kinds of writers and familiarity is the greatest virtue. After all, who would want to read something that didn’t remind them of something else?
When I first picked up Joshua Trotter’s debut collection, All This Could Be Yours, and saw that its jacket described his poems as “the bastard love children of Frost and Stevens,” I kind of wanted to puke. Really? Seriously? Could you come up with a more grandiose comparison? I mean, even if the comparison makes sense (and once you’ve read this book, it does), can you set a reader up with a more out-of-proportion expectation of a book?
I resisted the temptation center my review of Trotter’s book entirely around this rant. Instead I tried to focus the review, which is up now on Rover, on what makes the poems strong in their own right. Perhaps a book can be extraordinary not because of who it pays homage to or how it lives up to the ridiculous expectations set out on its cover, but because it side-steps them and finds a way to succeed on its own terms. Trotter is not Frost or Stevens, though his debts to them are in some ways apparent. Trotter is a good poet because he has his own voice. That ought to be enough of a blurb.