Are there really only "two traditions" of American poetry, as Ron Silliman says in passing in this blog post? And even if we can sort poets into one of two baskets, what value does the sorting have? And who dies it leave out? Isn't this a little like saying that there are two traditions in American religion, the Protestant and the Catholic. The first thing such a division does is erase all sorts of useful distinctions among members of those groups -- Lutherans are different from Pentecostals, etc. -- and the second thing it does is consign to oblivion anybody who won't fit into one of the baskets -- Jews, in my analogy, or Animists. I think this sort of binary thinking has led, not just to needless po-biz controversy, but to a real distortion of understanding of a poet like, say, Hayden Carruth, whom Silliman consigns to a "conservative" oblivion despite the fact that many of his books are in print and that -- at least among the folks I know -- he is still read. [More on Carruth shortly.] Maybe it was Henry Rago, in the issues of Poetry Silliman makes note of, who saw American poetry in its actual plurality rather than Daryl Hine and Silliman, who saw and continue to see it as divided and constrained.


Henry Gould said...

The third thing it does is efface what the supposed parties have in common.

There was a letter to the editor today in our local paper, whose author insisted that the divide between left & right, liberal & conservative, republican & democrat, was total, irrevocable & was the determining factor in not just American, but human history. All dialogue & compromise is useless - it's an eternal matter of the sheep & the goats.

It's amazing that someone like this letter-writer would have such calibre of divine insight, to be able to separate the good from the bad so comprehensively, so categorically. & it really helps simplify life, doesn't it?

What a service Ron Silliman does to American poetry, by providing these snazzy Team T-Shirts, which allow us to recognize opposing sides, & choose our own team! & doesn't it make poetry itself more interesting? I sometimes wonder if 95% of the poetry that gets circulated & talked about in the blogosphere would every get the attention it receives at all if it wasn't part of Ron's video game (the Army of the Righteous Post-Avants vs. the Evil Sleeper SoQ-Cells). Or maybe we could just skip the poetry & play the video game 24/7.

Henry Gould said...

I know I'm jsut repeating myself... but another thing that bugs me about Ron's approach is that it adds another layer of vinyl siding between poets & people at large. If you're part of a team that's battling another team of poets, you're not confronting the really difficult & complex problem of reaching the general public. You're avoiding the central challenge facing any writer. You're maintaining an in-house clubby atmosophere, which is supposedly what the post-avants were fighting against in the first place.

The really good poets are utterly beyond this kind of fishbowl politics. & real criticism is also done on a plane of knowledge, professionalism & authenticity, a way of doing things which shuns these crass polemics.

Joseph Duemer said...

It's your second comment that goes to the nub of the matter for me, Henry. The simple binary formulation simply renders some writers completely invisible. I think Swenson & St. John sense this--thus, the idea of the Hybrid, but whether they have rendered the invisible visible or simply elucidated another network remains an open question.

Not that networks of poets are a bad thing -- sure beats the opposing teams model.