In the latest Overland, Kris Hemensley criticises the Overland editors’ decision to allow a response by poet John Kinsella to a review of two of his works by Elizabeth Campbell. Hemensley wonders why we have accorded special favours for John, when it is not our usual practice to publish responses to a review. We did not, he points out, invite Elizabeth to participate in a debate. She has, in Hemensley’s eyes, been ambushed. All in all, in Hemensley’s view, we’ve used both writers to create a little sensation on behalf of the magazine.
We offer the following explanation:
1) In our opinion, the review was not your typical review. It was, in fact, extremely critical of the work of a poet who has many publications, and is a long-time correspondent of Overland. It was thus natural that we would have to let John know of the impending review, and offer him the chance to respond.
2) We decided to publish the review and response side by side, which we figured would allow our readers to assess both arguments. Before publication we notified Elizabeth that John was responding and that we would publish it in the same issue. We offered her the option of seeing it before the issue was published. This, we reasoned, would allow her the option of pulling the review if she felt ‘ambushed’.
3) We also offered Elizabeth the right of response.
4) In all of this, we were conscious that we wanted to make sure everyone was treated fairly, and that we were negotiating a difficult terrain. We wanted to publish the review, despite the fact that it was so critical, because we don’t want to discourage critical reviews. But we also felt that given its nature, John should probably have the right of response. It was a difficult situation to negotiate, but it seems to us that the two pieces work together well to bring to light some issues in Australian poetry.