Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Silliman Brouhaha

Much has been made recently over Ron Silliman's decision to turn off the comments stream on his blog. He himself has posted numerous emails he has received on the matter, and there are a bunch of links to the reaction of others. What the hell, here's my shot.

I was pretty pissed at Silliman when I first read about this. I know, that is anger that is very misplaced, and it was a position not well thought through. He does the whole thing without pay and with a presumably large investment of time. He is under no obligation to provide a platform for anyone else, be they thoughtful commenter or yahoo dickhead. Nevertheless, whatever the cost to the rest of the virtual world, the decision distresses me greatly.

I may as well say up front that I have a problem with authority. Gee, what a ballsy badass that makes me. Not really. You see, my problem is that I submit to it too easily. I have always believed that there is someone out there who is smarter than me, that someone knows the answer to whatever question I might have. This made me an easy mark for Silliman's brand of grand pronouncements. His every word was so confident and self-assured that I felt like a complete moron, and was filled with self-doubt if I ever disagreed. I understand of course that this is my issue, not his. However, once I began reading the comment stream on a regular basis, this proved to be the corrective I needed. Suddenly, I no longer wondered what was wrong with me when I thought Ron was completely full of shit; a lot of other people felt so as well. These days, I think the vast majority of what Ron has to say is rather suspect. I still like the vast sweep of his interests, both in poetry and other things, as well as the (sometimes overly lengthy) lists of links. Again, related to my authority problem, I tend to look to my poetic elders for enjoyment and inspiration; Silliman is nothing if not on top of the contemporary. However, I will certainly go to his blog with much less enthusiasm, knowing that I will no longer be able to amuse myself by reading his more astute readers let some of the hot air out of his over the top generalizations.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Exploration is the moral obligation of the poet. Sincerity in the expression of his vision is the only means by which this can be accomplished. I very much admire that quality in other poets because I feel it is so often lacking in my own work. One such poet was the late Lenore Kandel, whose uncompromising approach to her craft should be a standard for us all. The world is a smaller place with her loss, and it is up to the rest of us to stretch it back out again.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Here is a long overdo piece of self promotion, and some for the publisher as well. My page on Amazon, and the site for WordTechs Press. There may be a few copies of Laughter floating around, I'm not sure; never did hear whatever happened to Good SAMARitan.

Just a quick note here on a poet I've been reading lately, Joanne Kyger. I will admit right up front, I don't get it. She strikes me as prosy in a Welch/Whalen kind of way, but whereas I find something to take away from almost anything they write, I just don't get much out of her. The language strikes me as lax for the most part, and I don't find much of substantive value in most of her stuff. It's as if when she has something to say, she says it loosely and inexactly; when her language tightens up, she does too little with it. Obviously a journal/notebook poet, like Whalen or late Blackburn, she doesn't seem to have the interesting way of putting things together like Whalen, or the feel for language rhythms like Blackburn. Which isn't to say she has nothing of value, or isn't a possible resource for other poets. As I make my way through As Ever, I find that unlike a lot of poets, her later work is an improvement on what came before. Whatever my initial impressions may be, so many poets for whom I have a great deal of respect see great things in her, so I'm sure I will be going back again and again over time.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Reading aloud,
how do I sound
these structures,
do I do
the Shatner pause at the
end of
each line?

Saturday, July 18, 2009

I have read and written poetry for a long time now, but it always confounds me when someone asks, "What is poetry? Why read it? What do you get out of [insert author's name here]?" I guess I have always been thin on theory, and it is difficult to explain just what I get out of what I think of as more difficult or experimental writers in particular. I have no idea what is going on in a Philip Whalen or Robert Creeley poem most of the time. And they are the easy ones. Being raised on poetry as formal statements in need of some sort of debriefing, I am continually challenged by those poems that do not mean but be, as MacLeish put it. What does the poem mean? Exactly what it says. Why bother reading it in the first place? Because I suppose poetry is the revelation, through language, of what is essential. The "through language" part is what is of real import here. Language is the tool, and sometimes we just stop and examine our tools, to see how they have worn, if they are shiny or in need of sharpening. This is where the poem turns back in on itself, and can at times become merely self-referential and nothing more. It is the poems that balance themselves on that tipping point that I admire. "Red Wheelbarrow" comes to mind immediately; it has content, yet the statement is intimately welded to the way of saying. No ideas but in things, content is an extension (or revelation, per Levertov) of form.

Some of the foregoing ideas are at the heart of why I continue to value WC Williams and poems like "Red Wheelbarrow." Before I knew that Language Poetry was supposed to be capitalized, before I realized that it was a movement that critiqued said language from the outside, and in terms political and social instead of merely linguistic, I thought of Williams as a language poet. How to get what must be said seemed his concern. Perhaps even moreso than "Red Wheelbarrow," the poem that comes to mind in this context is "An Old-Fashioned German Christmas Card":

Armed with
a bass-violin

clarinet and
go four

poor musicians
the snow

villages in
the cold

What gets me here is the way he breaks up the phrases in such a way as to make us confront the speech rhythms we would normally use. For example, in the last three lines, I would contend that most of us see "between villages" and "in the snow" as natural groupings, since they are complete prepositional phrases. By breaking them up, Williams focuses our attention on how the language works, how we often put things together without thinking about it. Here, with no punctuation and broken phrases, we have to think about how things go together, thus trudging through the poem the way the musicians soldier on to the next village.

Friday, February 13, 2009


Note: The above is a fairly obvious bit of concrete poetry, the shape of the words mimicking what they represent. But there is perhaps a less obvious feature as well. The use of font size and boldface lettering is used to stress function as well as appearance. When we look at a sign, it is the sign, with its attendant message that we focus on, not the post. So the poem gets at this more abstract notion as well as the more overt visual imitation of what it represents. On a completely different note, it always occurs to me when making something as simple as this, that someone else has probably already done it. But what if the visual presentation is altered, for example by using boldface lettering and different font sizes? The text would be the same, but its appearance, which encapsulates much of its "meaning" as a poem, would be different. Would it be considered plagiarism? An original work? Something in between?