Saturday, May 03, 2003

Okay, I used it as the opportunity for a lame joke. But now that David and Kasey have weighed in on Ron Silliman's remarks today on us "50 or so poetry bloggers," I think there may be less to Silliman's comments than it might first appear, though I might also object on different grounds.

The entry is actually about Halvard Johnson and explaining, in that context, what it might mean for a poet to be an "complete independent." In this context, poetry bloggers are a rhetorical foil, an example of a poetic community in the process of forming. But I think it would be a mistake to assume that Silliman is saying independent=good (and hence community=bad). Independence here is an admirable but difficult position, not one that every poet would, or should choose. Silliman himself, after all, has been a relentless builder of networks and communities, an editor of anthologies and journals, an indefatigable essayist, correspondent--and blogger. I can't imagine Silliman himself being without a well-defined "aesthetic position or point of view," as he characterizes Johnson; but somehow, Silliman finds, Johnson seems to have produced great poetry without one.

So I'm guessing--though I could be totally off base--that Silliman identifies more with the bloggers in this opposition than with the "independent" Johnson.

Here's the offending passage:

"Independence for a poet, as well as for a scholar, is not necessarily the easiest stance to take. Literary communities & networks form more or less naturally before anyone even plans them & create possible, sometimes probable, audiences for whatever. Just look at how rapidly the 50 or so active poetry bloggers have fallen into the process of referring obsessively back & forth to each other’s daily posts."

I agree entirely with Kasey and David that Silliman's language is loaded here. But I don't think it should be taken to mean that the formation of a literary community, and of an audience for "whatever" work that community might produce, is a negative thing.

I do think it shows, though, how distant Silliman's own practice is from that of the band of bloggers he describes. Silliman will address emails sent to him and even the Poetics list, but rarely, if ever, refers to a post on someone else's blog or links to it; nor does he, like nearly every other blogger I read, have any links to others' blogs. What he sees as an obsessive tic, though, seems like blogging bedrock to me, at least for those of us who started blogging with absolutely no confidence that anyone would read anything we wrote. Linking is conversation; linking is courtesy; linking is acknowledging that you have readers, most of whom are lonely bloggers themselves. And linking is multidirectional; it's usually several different people talking in different directions at once, which may be disorienting but is also exhilirating and keeps things moving. It's what keeps the blog from being a monologue or a book review.

I think Silliman's footnote contains another misunderstanding, at least from my experience:

"Trying to yoke an aesthetic tendency around Jim Behrle, K. Silem Mohammad, Sandra Simonds, Gabe Gudding, Laura Willey,  Heriberto Yepez, Nick Piombino, Nada Gordon & Jim Duemer may seem like an improbable undertaking, but each can now count at least 50 other bloggers who are probably intrigued at whatever else they might be writing."

It took me a while to realize what Silliman was really saying here: that part of the function of blogging is to create a market for our poetry! Maybe that's just the Machiavellian truth as Silliman sees it. But I certainly don't experience it that way. I think the mistake is to think that what's drawing poetry bloggers together is some "aesthetic tendency" in their poetry; it's an odd but true fact that a lot of bloggers don't put their own poems in their blogs (Silliman never does either). To be honest, most of the time I don't know that much about the poetry of most bloggers I read. What I know is their blogs. And I've come to realize increasingly that I read the blogs I read because I like the blog itself, rather than some presumed "real" work that hovers behind it.

I don't mean to say that poetry's fallen out of the picture. What brings the bloggers I read and link to together is their interest in poetry. And blogging can absolutely be productive for poetry, hooking up poets who might otherwise never have interacted, and giving poets stranded out in Pennsylvania or Ithaca or Palo Alto a way to talk, and people to talk to. What I am saying is that the blog itself's become a kind of art form, too, one that exists in parallel to whatever other work we do. Linking, referring, and obsessing are what it's all about.

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Paul Squires said...

Fascinating to read this in an historical context. Ron Silliman has certainly come round to your point of view. 50 has turned into 550,000 very quickly.