I joked about the topic of good writing in the piece below (my po-ahemic intrusion on the well-intentioned event sponsored by the Caribbean Cultural Theatre) but when the host/moderator of Tuesday evening's Poets and Passion session, E Wayne McDonald, posed the question to me and Geoffrey Philp, I was forced to think about it seriously.
My response at the time was that "good" writing is a subjective thing. Whether or not we like it, good writing is majorly dependent on the reader's judgment, and his or her judgment is always full of biases. Not that that's a crime or anything...
Geoffrey Philp ('twas a huge pleasure to meet him, I might add) maintained that good writing (presumably regardless of one's biases and such) should fit the basic standards of symmetry and form. I don't disagree with that; I've taught that for long enough, and I've witnessed its benefits for those who write for certain audiences to know that makes good sense.
But, I'm also aware of the history of the English language and of how standard expectations of symmetry and form for all genres of writing have over time been influenced by innovations. Some of the well-known examples extend from Chaucer's innovative "borrowings" (repetitions with some difference), to similar types of innovations on the syntax of the language we use and study in America (and elsewhere) today--innovations from canonized writers like Hemingway, Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison, and others.
My own understanding of "good" writing encompasses form as well as content, and is FULL of biases: my Brit-American teacherly, academic bias, which gives me certain expectations for the genre or form of literature I'm reading (be it a play, a poem, or a short story); my feminist bias, which makes me partial to writing that is sympathetic to women and their struggles; my ethnic, geographic biases, and so forth.
I suspect (hope) my biases are clear in my reviews.
Other Caribbean Cultural Theatre events to note: A tribute to the late Rex Nettleford, April 18; Poets & Passion: Elizabeth Nunez (T&T) Ana In Between, and Tipahnie Yanique (USVI) How to Escape from a Leper Colony, May 13; Poets & Passion: Thomas Glave (Jamaica) The Torturer's Wife, June 8.
The Critic / Book Reviewer
No I'm not the creative type
But I'll read you and get excited
And get on blog, FB, or Twitter and hype.
And sometimes full of spite
I'll proceed to tell the world or a few
why you should take up farming or aquaculture
and leave the writing for the talented true.
No I'm not the creative type.
But from time to time I'll devour your play
and bounce up and down in my seat and say:
Oh marvelous! Stupendous! A new classic in sight!
Who knew such a playwright existed
to tell of the world's wrongs and rights and twisted!
No, I've never written a line of a novel or short story,
or battled with publishers
to see it pass the push and shove on its way to hopeful glory,
only to end up somewhere between casual flicking fingers
and a bag of potato chips
or, with some luck delicately held with one hand
while the other cerebrally strokes the temples
and underlines the masterful bits.
But I have swallowed novels whole
in a matter of hours
and thought it was my role
to say how quickly the art sours
after the first line or two,
and that a woman would never ever do that in bed,
so do your homework and get it right next time will you?
And no I've never suffered to create a poem's message and meter,
or tested it live before an audience.
But when I'm near-drunk and comfy on my two-seater
I'm often hasty to declare some efforts too full of pretense
to take the place of a TV suspense
or from the meaningful hours spent watching Derek Jeter.
Yes, I'm the self-appointed critic.
I dwell in the language of trite,
like poignant, gripping, haunting, poetic
or puzzling, strange, forgettable, and too white.
And if you're the writer and you ever find my site,
don't gasp and spit back at the foolishness I have said.
Just delight in the fact that you've been read
And count one more dollar to the cost of your bread.