Emerging Writer has picked up on a New York Times article that highlights the seven most overused words that reviewers employ when writing reviews. I've seen a similar vein taken up on Poets On Fire forums recently too.
The problem, I guess, might lie with the time that you have between reading the book/journal/zine etc. and having to write and then deliver the finished article to whichever editor is taking it.
It's a topic fraught with its own rules and regulations and areas of writing negotiation that the reviewer must come through. Last year (at QUB), we had Ian Sansom (he of the Guardian reviews) come talk to us. Not so much about how to write a review, more how not to write a review. Some of it makes perfect sense.
There's no substitute for knowing what you're talking about. If it's the poet's third collection, you should, in all honesty, be familiar with their work. If not, go get familiar with the work. Perhaps this is what leads to reviews that employ such overused words as the ones listed in the NYT review of reviewing; the time constraint of having to make your deadlines as you whizz through the tenth book in that bursting jiffy bagful that you've agreed to review.
If you're going to diss a writer's work, at least make it humorous. Ian used Randall Jarrell's prolific output as a good example. But the thing about Jarrell's reviews is that they were good; in fact some would argue that they were far better than his poetry output. Which makes me wonder whether reviewing is such an art, in and of itself, that it impinges on the other work of the writer - whether they are involved in poetry or prose.
I am reminded of Rob MacKenzie's recent post, where he asked what people are looking for in reviews. I know that this pertains to poetry reviews in particular; prose reviews are more telling what the book is about and whether it is well written or not; poetry reviews have to look at the techniques involved and whether they contribute to the sense of the collection. Form informing content, and all that, which makes poetry reviewing far more specialised than the general all purpose reviews.
Reviewing is an art: I think that a reviewer should be aiming to convey their passion and knowledge about the book they have read to the reader. It's an act of persuasion as well as conveyance; a gentle balancing act of accessibility and refined language. It is, after all, only an opinion. But it should be the very best opinion for the reader to trust your words.
Having said all that, there's one book that I would really recommend for the would be reviewer: How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read, by Pierre Bayard. Read it and smile with amusement at how much we know about books that we've never opened... I am thinking of Joyce now, for some reason...