Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Silliman's Blog and Poetic Specialization

In my most recent post on the Irascible Poet I miss spoke- i said that Ron Silliman lives in the non-poetry world- and he corrected me that he lives in the non academic world.

This prompted me to think about the reason that we all read Ron's blog. Ron Silliman and his blog is a phenomenon in poetry. He mentioned a post once here on the Irascible poet and within five hours I had 4000 visits so of course Ron's work has influence.

But why?

There are two reasons I think that Silliman's Blog does well. Ron's blog is in many ways an echo of older ways of doing poetry.

Most of our poets and poetries today are created in academia. This creates in many poets a hot house effect. There is little real risk involved in the work it is written to satisfy an academic discussion rather than an artistic one. Few poets make their living writing poetry. This makes for a narrow discussion in the poetic marketplace.

In the past however poets and poetry were in dialogue with art and artists in general. All one has to do is remember that at the Cedar bar in New York in the 1950's Pollock and Creeley were sitting at the same tables. Frank O' Hara was an art critic, there were many others. This sense that poets were part of a larger artistic movement was important and is lost as most poets specialize to fit into the world as it exists today. We dont see many collaborations anymore film and visual art are not in dialogue with poetry as was the case in the past.

On Silliman's blog this type of dialogue continues. It is interesting because on most blogs you get bits and pieces. Poets put up their own poetry or their own readings but on Ron's blog we get film and art reviews. We get commentary about a very large range of subjects, including Baseball which is appreciated. There are of course criticisms of this blog. Ron tends to favor certain types of poets and his asthetic is not always the most interesting but at least there is the kind of cross pollination that is lacking in other venues.

I think the reason for the success of the Blog is that it is not specialized. I exist as Ron does in two worlds- one poetic and one in business (the publishing events business in my case)- this changes the way one views both worlds since they are so different. But in some ways not being an academic frees one to partake in other artforms and to absorb more of the world without the need to exist in academia for one's bread. This freedom lets Ron be more critical and more open that would normally be possible. I find that this lack of control on his part makes the blog work. I also think that the lack of poet speak makes a difference.

I was told once that the difference between Olson, Duncan, and O'Hara and today's poets is that they were public intellectuals. This, I think is the issue at hand. Most poets today are specialists they do one thing well and they understand how to function in a specific environment. That was not true about Olson or Duncan or O'Hara and it is not true about Silliman's Blog.

My questions about Language Poetry and Flarf and other movements are basically focused on the idea of the public intellectual and this dialogue. I wonder if these movements are simply an easy retreat into the academic bosom as not to be challenged by larger forces? Perhaps that is the critique? Do we retreat into our own epistemological system or do we engage with the world as poets?

Is what we are doing small or is it big? Do we exist among other artists? Or do we exist within the academy?


Larry Sawyer said...

I'm glad you don't exist within the academy, Ray, because you're free to speak your mind without self-censorship. I appreciate the genuineness of your blog --

I think academia in the final tally will have hurt contemporary poetry somewhat. Water that is still too long becomes murky. Of course, writing programs with the funding to allow a stream of many various interesting visiting poets would be ideal, but that doesn't seem to be the norm. At the end of the day any instructor is really simply making an attempt to bring you around to his or her viewpoint as being "correct."

The great thing about O'Hara, Olsen, Duncan, Pollock et al. was their daring. Now it's rare if anyone writes or creates anything truly shocking or innovative, workshops create ho·mo·ge·ne·i·ty -- when everything is layered with a veneer of irony that can be stifling, too.

I'd rather read or view something that's a little rough around the edges. Thanks for the interesting posts lately.

Curtis Faville said...

Dear Ray: Appreciate your opinions but please don't use so many run-on sentences. Here are two:

"Most poets today are specialists they do one thing well and they understand how to function in a specific environment."

"We dont see many collaborations anymore film and visual art are not in dialogue with poetry as was the case in the past."

Put a period after "specialists" and start a new sentence. Put a period after "anymore," and start a new sentence.

Writing this way dumbs down the effect of your presentation. It isn't a big sin, but it's unnecessary.

Radish King said...

I don't read Silliman's blog.

WorldClassPoet said...

I agree. Silliman keeps it interesting.

Jeremiah Douglas said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Daniel said...

There is rarely any poetry at Ron Silliman. It is far more often a blog of faux-criticism and gossip.