Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Kasey, Jonathan Mayhew, Chris Murray, and Shanna Compton, among others, take Ron Silliman's test of poetry.

Kasey joins me in challenging the terms of the test, arguing that artificially stripping a poem of its author "is counterproductive to one of the main goals of any sustained reading of poets and poetry: to establish connections between social relations and practice, community and production, culture and cultural artifacts." But he then goes ahead and gives the test the ol' college try anyway--with a twist: noting in each case how his reading is inevitably driven toward speculation about the specific identity of the author (and away from "the text itself"), to the extent that he wants to "go have pizza and beer with the person who wrote them" (how Personist, Kasey).

But what actually interests me most--both in Kasey's response and in others--is how totally Ron's test failed in presenting texts that could remain anonymous; most readers already knew the identities of at least two of the four authors. Even better was Shanna Compton's comment over at Ron's blog (later qualified) that "i am pretty sure that almost every poetry blogger reads the online journal in which poem A appeared"--although apparently I don't, since I didn't recognize it. Best of all--and something that hadn't even occurred to me--was that of course, poets A, B, C, and D were quite likely to be in the audience for the test itself, watching as bloggers tried to figure out who they were. Indeed, Shanna's blog contains this surreal comment by none other than "Poet B" her/himself:

Well, poet A was extremely important to me, mostly in the freedom I felt when first reading poet A. But I don’t think I really got the anaphora thing so much from poet A, more the freedom to have real things in the poem and to twist those real thing inside of other real things, the sort of rapid deployment of nouns which is pretty much consistently present in poet A’s second book.

At this point we seem to have entered a Borgesian state of increasingly conspiratorial relations between quanities alleged to be hypothetical: the poet B's deep debt to the works of poet A, which may not even exist in the first place...

Was this Ron's point in the first place? Because the result of the test has not been, as I might have expected, an exercise in close reading, but rather an exposure of the networks that do surround the free-floating texts on Ron's blog. What Ron showed was that it is in fact impossible to find a text that will be only "itself," and in fact that the question of identifying the authors of the texts in question proved to be much more a marker of insider/outsider (who reads which journals, who knows poets A and B) than a test of one's interpretative skills.

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