Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The history of poetry, like the history of any art form, is not a procession of its “best works.”

So saith Ron Silliman. And he's right. However, the history of poetry, like the history of any art form, is not the art form itself. Silliman repeatedly confuses the history and politics of the poetry world for poetry. Of course, this macro-view (you might almost think that a professional market analyst came up with it...) makes schools, movements and conflicts between them more relevant than the poems produced. Which is an odd position for someone who claims to be a poet to stake. It's really more of a scholar's stance. For most amateur readers of poetry, it's those great works that matter, no matter when they were written.


brian palmu said...


Also, these "seminal" writers Silliman enshrines were, themselves, inspired by predecessors working in a similar vein, so his argument of "everyone remembers the originator, not the copycats" falls apart. EVERYone borrows and steals from, and is influenced by, others. As you rightly say, it's about the individual poem, not the school it represents.

Far too much is made of Pound's (now ironically old) dictum to "make it new". Currently, and for some time, that translates into "make it strange, without any link to the past". Of course it's easily seen to be bluster. I think it was said best in Ecclesiastes -- "nothing new under the sun" -- and that antidote to Pound preceded his by several millennia, and is more appropriate.

Zachariah Wells said...

And now we have people constantly griping--with no apparent awareness of the intrinsic irony of the statement--that no one respects "avant-garde traditions." Of course, any truly innovative writer worth reading is not writing out of only one recent aesthetic school. Anyone who does this winds up writing derivative and usually quite anemic work. Silliman is constantly bemoaning "neophobes," and there's some justice in this, but we should be equally suspicious of neophiles.