Back in October I commented on Ron Silliman’s blog, responding, as one does now & then, both to what Ron had said and to one of the earlier commenters. The result, I find upon rereading (I copied the comments to a Word file), continues to bother me. Ron will grump about how the poetry world’s awards tend to be heaped at the feet of those he considers tiresome reactionaries, at least in style if not in wider world politics.
A commenter took Ron to task, “[Y]our posts on this issue exercise us into sputtering rage. 90% of poetry these days is gossip. I was just at a SoQ reading in Chicago (sponsored by Poetry Magazine and the ALSC.) The post-reading drinking was dominated by discussion about publishers, names -- it might as well have been about music, or archetecture [sic], or Romance novels as about poetry. … At some point you grow up as a poet and as a reader, and you grow to regard this with disgust. You grow to hate talk about the National Book Award, who's getting published by Knopf, and so on. It just seems incredibly remote from what you yourself are doing, and what your friends are doing, and if you have a good bookstore in town, what you think the best writers are doing. … [W]e feel that complete abdication from the gossip world -- which involves thinking of ourselves and our friends as ‘poets’, not ‘poets of a certain type’ -- has been a necessary step. … I don't want a place at the table, and being told to demand one seems a bit bullying.”
SoQ is an acronym of “School of Quietude,” the term Ron Silliman has applied to those I called in my first paragraph “tiresome reactionaries.”
This was what I posted: “All human endeavors include at least a dash of politics (even religion; the Zen master or the Pope got where HE is unsullied by the temporal world?). I'm puzzled that [the commenter above] puts discussion/analysis of it off limits -- because we're poets and politics is irrelevant to poetry? Politics (gossip?) is part of the program. One can certainly ignore something bulky in the room ... Still, that I tire of it and wish it would step outside for a smoke and let me talk about ... what? ... stanza breaks? my next book (first book)? ... doesn't make it leave the party. It's one more thing to talk about. Ron, for one, talks about many other things, too.
“Far's labeling myself is concerned: I write poetry and I define ‘poetry’ loosely, and because I write poetry & rather a lot of it (my pile of notebooks from the last 20 years is about 3 feet high; yes, they got knocked cattywampus & I did pile them on the floor) ... so I call myself a poet. I don't write the same thing over & over. I suppose the preponderance of my influences (& my art) would slouch under Ron's ‘post avant’ banner, though there's SoQish stuff, too. When asked what kind of poet I am I hesitantly offer ‘experimental’ because that's what I do. Experiment a lot. [ellipses in original, indicating pause rather than excision]”
The earlier commenter came back with: “What I said was so unobjectionable and true that it's internet-axiomatic that someone has to come along and disagree.”
He quotes a few sentences from my comment before continuing to protest:
“I never put discussion of it off limits. I never said that ‘politics’ (who gets published, and by whom) doesn't matter. I never said that mention of poetry gossip would make me leave the room. I never said that Ron was bad because this is all he talks about. For my actual beliefs, do read my comment, which expresses them well.”
I was startled by the commenter’s protest. “I never said … I never said … I never said … I never said.” Then he sneers, “For my actual beliefs, do read my comment, which expresses them well.”
Should someone tell me that a topic reduces him to a “sputtering rage” it would seem not only reasonable but essential to read that as a demand the topic be off limits. What, I want to experience his “sputtering rage”?
He says, “90% of poetry these days is gossip. [At a recent reading] the post-reading drinking was dominated by discussion about publishers, names … At some point you grow up as a poet and as a reader, and you grow to regard this with disgust. You grow to hate talk about the National Book Award, who's getting published by Knopf, and so on.” Yet the commenter’s “disgust” should “never” indicate that to talk awards gossip is “bad”? How odd. Disgust – hate – rage – a necessity for complete abdication [sic] from gossip.
It’s hard to believe the commenter expects to be taken seriously saying one thing then, in a wounded howl, renouncing what he’d said as though he had “never said” such a thing.
My own comments I’d thought “so unobjectionable and true that” I was merely making conversation, of a bland, even tired sort. Politics, it’s part of the world of Art (and Poetry), too.
You can read the unedited comments on Ron’s blog here.