Unfit Criticism 1: Retractable Devil Horns

The first in a unique series of critical texts by Shane Neilson, Retractable Devil Horns is an irreverently passionate account of Canadian poetry over the past twenty years. Following Judith Butler’s advice to “cherish the longer forms,” Neilson collects his more substantial ‘difficult’ pieces, many of which he deliberately suppressed for book publication due to the prevailing ideological climate in the humanities. In the first half of this text, Neilson reaches out to screaming Canadian poetry personalities, down-dresses many of the country’s big names, and attacks performativity; in the second, he thinks through books by talents like Carmine Starnino, Phil Hall, and Sharon McCartney in a more reflective (but no less engaged) manner. 

Poets reviewed and mentioned in the series:

Jacob! McArthur! MOOOOONEY! Rafi Aaron. R.M. Vaughan. Lynn Crosbie. Paul Vermeersch. George Murray. Al Purdy. David Solway. Carmine Starnino. Peter Sanger. Phil Hall. Esta Spalding. Sharon McCartney. Marc di Saverio. George Walker. Luke Hathaway. Jim Johnstone.

Table of Contents 

  1. Poisonous Frame: A Review of Laura Ward’s Bad Press: The Worst Critical Reviews Ever! (B.E.S. Publishing, 2002)
  2. Public Hanging: the Death of the Book Review
  3. Harbourfront Pigs and Lipstick
  4. Rules of Thumb for An Aspiring Critic
  5. Pretending to be Great: Review of Rafi Aaron’s Surviving the Censor: The Unspoken Words of Osip Mandelstam (Niagara Falls: Seraphim Editions, 2006)
  6. High School Confessional
  7. Lyric, get thee to a nursing home, they’re showing cartoons in the dining room
  8. Measured Advice from a Shrieking Personality
  9. Reaching for Al Purdy: A Review of Beyond Remembering (Madeira Park: Harbour, 2000) and Yours, Al: The Collected Letters of Al Purdy (Madeira Park: Harbour, 2004)
  10. Solway the Sad Balladeer: an Open Letter to the (Unofficial) Laureate of ‘This Sucks’
  11. Critics at Large: A Review of Carmine Starnino’s A Lover’s Quarrel: Essays and Reviews (Erin: PQL, 2004) and Peter Sanger’s White Salt Mountain (Kentville: Gaspereau, 2005)
  12. The Invisible Man Is In Your Caesura: Phil Hall Collaborative Collage w/ John Nyman
  13. Introduction to The Pre-Poem Moment
  14. My First Review: Esta Spalding’s Lost August: Poems (House of Anansi Press, 1999)
  15. Eventual Development: The Poetry of Carmine Starnino
  16. McCartney Sings the Blues
  17. Recovering the Stars: A Review of Marc di Saverio’s Sanatorium Songs (Toronto: Cactus Press, 2010)
  18. Beauty and Representing Mental Illness: A Review of Blackhood #1 (Comics are the Enemy Publications, 2017)
  19. Interpreting the Interpreter of Dreams and Culture: Introduction to Sing to Me in the Cut (Victoria: Frog Hollow Press, 2015)
  20. True Words in the Word Cloud: An Experiment in Collaborative Criticism
  21. Idiosyncratic Notes on the Essays
  22. Acknowledgements
  23. Endnotes

The ethos behind the series is a tale told in the introduction. I won’t tell the tale out of school.

If you’re interested in purchasing copies (only serious queries), then use the message function on this site. $500 per book, $1250 for all 4 in the series. If you are a Canadian university library, I’m afraid only one university per province will be allocated a copy (with one exception). I hope it was you!