A Rising Tide: Reviewing as Literary Citizenship


by Review Editors Randon Billings Noble and Sarah Ann Winn
Lately at Tinderbox, we’ve been thinking a lot about our poetry community, and how we can lift each other up through troubled times. One of those ways is generosity – readers are natural reviewers! You’ve already proven yourself to be kind, by spending time reading others’ work. In the spirit of encouraging more conversations between readers and work they love, here’s a micro list of review writing tips.


  • Begin by reading the book cover to cover. Go through the book and write in the margins/underline/take notes on the first pass — the themes you see emerging, particularly artful passages, forms employed, powerful statements, places where influences are evident.


  • Read it again! Cross check it for places an image reappears or echoes.


  • Look at the notes in the back of the book closely, making sure to note the context which might be necessary to better understand the poems you’d like to use in your review.


  • Ask yourself: What is it the work is trying to say as a whole?


  • What is best about this book?


  • More questions: Is the author successful in their attempt? If so, how? If not quite, why? What is the overall effect this book had on the reader? Who is its ideal audience?



Two tips that have nothing to do with writing, and yet everything to do with making a better review writer:


  • Read reviews from many sources. Today, everyone is a reviewer – whether it’s panning a restaurant on Yelp, griping about a particular brand’s humidifier noise on Amazon, or just appreciating popcorn romances on GoodReads. If you don’t read reviews from various places, you’ll only be familiar with the reviews in a smaller circle, like Sarah’s grandparents, who for twenty years turned daily to the obituary column, reading only the items about their friends and families and discarding the rest. Useful to know who’s still around that you care about, impossible to know how the poetry world is changing and innovating.


Here are a few wonderful review sites, beyond the New York Times and LA Review of Books:

Rain Taxi



Fork And Page



The Bind



Diane Lockward’s blog also has a fantastic list of review sources.



Sometimes we read reviews that seem to veer back towards works of literary criticism, more in the style of a dutiful research paper. The component that’s missing? Joy! Even when reviewing work whose focus is grief, don’t leave joy outside the door when you’re writing a review. We’re all here because we love the same thing, and want to see it thrive. Thoughtful criticism is of course part of any good review, but the general tone should be enthusiastic, smart, bold, personal (if you like) and warm.


If this has inspired you, or if you already write reviews, please submit them to us here at Tinderbox Poetry Journal!


Our Review Guidelines:


Tinderbox’s focus is on poetry, but we publish reviews of poetry, creative nonfiction, literary fiction, and hybrid forms. We are especially interested in featuring titles from smaller presses, but we don’t review self-published work. We welcome reviews of poetry books published after 2016, both full-length collections and chapbooks.


Reviews should be 500-800 words. We’re open to longer reviews but there needs to be a good reason – let’s have that conversation before you submit.


Please submit them in *.doc format. Hybrid/experimental reviews are welcome.


All reviews are subject to editorial suggestions and revisions before publication. You will have a chance to approve of any edits before publication. If you choose not to make the edits, Tinderbox may not publish your review.


In addition to reviews we are interested in

Longer review essays of more than one title that explore a theme or trend or issue in
 addition to reviewing the books in question

Round-up reviews of more than one title (three chapbooks, two essay collections, etc.)

Author interviews that accompany a shorter review

Books that Stay with Us: reviews of books that are at least ten years old, of any genre,
  that you love, that have stayed with you

Pitches for other book-related writing


Have questions?  Want to pitch a title?  Contact us at tinderboxreviews@gmail.com.


We look forward to working with you, and thank you for being part of our community!

Randon Billings Noble is an essayist. Her collection Be with Me Always is forthcoming from the University of Nebraska Press in March 2019 and her lyric essay chapbook Devotional was published by Red Bird Chapbooks. Other work has appeared in the Modern Love column of The New York Times, Creative Nonfiction, Brevity, and elsewhere. She is currently the founding editor of After the Art and you can read more at www.randonbillingsnoble.com.