It's a sad thing that Silliman felt he had to shut down his comments section, but I understand his weariness with having to act as the lunchroom monitor. The image persists, I suppose, that poets are as a class more sensitive, intelligent, intuitive and respectful of the feelings of others, and that as a class wouldn't be caught dead being intrusive, abusive creeps, but my experience online shows otherwise; a good many, that is to say, too many poets who are drawn to comments blog with a large readership seem uniformly convinced that they, as individuals, are unrecognized geniuses who have convinced themselves that the anger they constantly brew is a righteous call to speak a blunt truth to those whom they've judged as frauds, posers, fakes, or merely mediocre. It's self-righteousness, of course, and the exchanges one might have with the practitioners of unprovoked invective is an extreme test of one's patience.The desire of the sort Silliman is tired of dealing with isn't to exchange views, but only to attack and achieve some perverted pride in proving that their intellect and energy are dedicated to little more than maintaining an unceasing stream of hurtful things to say to people they don't know. There are times when the poetry forums I've participated in more closely resembled the political free for all that are in abundance on the internet. It's a full-time job to maintain order and civility on a forum with a dedicated topic, and I suspect that Ron Silliman has more interesting things to do with his time than keep watch over the willfully immature. Poets and poetry readers are not immune to being jerks. What of the rest of us? Maybe we'll have to turn off the computer and find someone, in the flesh, to talk to these things about. How important is poetry to us, anyway. Significant enough to get out of our seats and go into the community where we live to support poetry by attending readings, buying poetry books, forming live, in person discussion groups about poetry? Do we care enough about the importance of the work of poets to dare discuss it in real-world circumstances where we would find better, more considered phrases with which to disagree with one another? Or find out how interesting those we disagree with actually are once we take a risk and get to know them as more than an example of an enemy ideology? Could there be a rebirth of wonder?
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
Saturday, September 12, 2009
Ron Silliman commemorated the 9/11 anniversary on his blog yesterday with a gruesome photograph of ground zero with two poems by Jack Spicer superimposed over the carnage. It understandably caused a minor tempest among a few readers who thought we'd had enough fetishism over the attack, and that it was a use of Spicer's work the late poet might not have approved of. I thought it fine and appropriate; Spicer equated God with a Big Radio, and seemed taken with the idea of a poet's inspiration being transmissions from far off places, old voices of dead poets in turn who find their metaphors turned into apt descriptions of current circumstances. By the time the hidden essence, the secret nuance of what a poet was talking about catches with a culture's experience, their original intent, while interesting, is not relevant as to how their words make our lives comprehensible, even if only on a visceral level. You could argue that the correlative intimations older poems have on the range of contemporary events is coincidental irony, but there is a saturation point when the lines, intended for what's implied, hushed and only vaguely graspable on the specific subject, become instead the needed at-hand phrases that get the ideas that elude you when tragedies or windfalls of good fortune intervene on the come-and-go. The poet loses control of what his poet is supposed to mean as history adds associations to the syntactical skin. Spicer, I suspect, might well object to the use, but there is a savage bluntness about poets and their varied attempts to find a greater resonance from the obscenity of violence that resonates loudly with what we're remembering today. What Spicer intended is a moot point, and in this instance, inconsequential. Today was the day everything changed, as the overused phrase went, and that meant everyone had to take a hard look at who they were, who they said they were, and why that mattered in the face of such insane destruction. Spicer, not the least, likely would have considered long and hard; there is the notion that what you've said in a situation you want to clarify gets repeated against seemingly opposing backgrounds. The voices from out of the air, from the radio of memory, are triggered by extraordinary events that transform our regular which, after all, are not static in any sense. Silliman's collage is an inspired combination of histories; they are no longer mutually exclusive.
Sunday, November 23, 2008
I do enjoy apples, savor them, dice and slice them, eat them enthusiastically and wallow a bit in the crisp and sweet delight that . "Apple Economics", though, is enough to kill my taste for the prized fruit. Edison Jenning's writing misses the the whole savor experience and produces instead a set of regimented lines that neither make sense nor appeal to the senses. It might be that Jennings wants to give the sense of a listener coming into the middle, or the last third of a conversation, with all the signifiers connected to an emotion that was initially expressed at the start of the monologue but which as abated with the on going details.
Though livid and salacious, supermarket Red Delicious
don't deserve the name. But after bagging two or three,
I think of old-stock Staymans that grew behind our house
in weather-beaten, bee-infested rows no one ever pruned,
and all we had to do was reach. I must have eaten bushels' worth while balanced in the highest limbs.
This makes me think of those nauseating camera sweeps you used to see in Sixties adventure series like The Man from UNCLE or I Spy where the lens spins around a crowded terrain in the wan hope of getting in all of the incidental exotica with the fewest shots and manhours with little sense of how coherent the sequence might be. Jenning's method jumps from one stance to another, from euphonious memories of supermarket shelves to backyard harvests, with the only determinant being that apples had to be mentioned in each of the long and otherwise segregated lines.Each sentence seems like the start of a new poem, and I wonder if Jennings has read the notorious Language Poets, in the guise of Ron Silliman particularly. Silliman, an envelope -pushing writer who's unmoored referents are written with a rigorous methodology and purpose , uses images and image-born phrases in long succession that are seemingly separate from the sentence before it and the sentence that follows.Silliman's new collection, Age of Huts, brings together several books he's published as a long standing project. It makes for alterntely exihilerating and exasperating reading. Each line can well be said to be the start of another poem, and although the approach , which foregrounds language as subject matter, and while the aesthetic effect of Silliman's poetry is culminative--there is a cubist perspective that arises when one gets a hint that each of the writer's pieces, nonsequitur that they may seem, have physical locations, sites, real people with whom he's had real conversations, and there is stammering and stuttering rhythm which is oddly musical as he works through his variations of chosen icons--tone appreciates the length to which Silliman has continued his course of examining the dictions and tropes that constitute the way we address our experience in the world.
Jenning's aims are more modest and less successful, chiefly because he seems to want to transgress that troublesome line that separates poetry from prose and so produce writing that has the effect of a collage. The ambition isn't political as is Silliman's, it is nostalgic and quaint. We are meant to take this in as a series of associations , personalized with first person pronouns, as an epiphany, a rush of sensation that is elusive, powerful, and which makes us weak in the knees in the fragmented recollection.
With one hand full of apples,
the other swatting bees, I watched swallows tip
and skim the tree-rimmed skies already hinting cold,
the windfall left ungathered, the fallow years that followed,
and now this bag of garish fruit my memory grafts to vintage
among the rows of grocery aisles that green to fields of praise.
There are not many instances when I would invoke the name of Billy Collins as an example any other poet should emulate, but in this case I think Collins' transparent "writerly" stanzas would have been a perfect match for the ambivalent nostalgia Jennings tried to get across. The failure is what I see as Jenning's willingness to flirt with nonsequiturs to get his feeling across; it reads as arch and stiff, and the worst offense, dull. Collins has the benefit of not trying to be bold or experimental in his verse celebrating the mundane . He might be a hack, but at least he succeeds in what he's trying to get across in a poem. But this is stiff as as a starched brassire, unnatural sounding for an impressionistic chain of autobiographical images; the associative leaps between the lines would be more vivid with a tongue speaking with fewer words one has copied from a thesaurus, to be used in a poem when the muse is ready to motivate an idea. It reads as if it has been worked over, concentrated upon, with new phrases added, deleted, reworked, over-thought. Edison Jenning's would- be tribute to apples sounds forced and unappetizing. Nothing convincing of either apples or his experience of them comes across here, and that's a shame.
Friday, March 7, 2008
The Age of Huts (Compleat)
(University of California Press)
Ron Silliman, a writer whose unmoored referents are written with a rigorous methodology and purpose, despite the initial impression that what he’s written is babble and nonsense. There is a strategy at work in his body of poems, as in the way he uses images and image-born phrases in long successions that are separate from the sentence before it and the sentence that follows. In this poet’s case, though, his method isn’t isolating sentences as autonomous language units in a gallery-lit vacuum, but rather bringing the rest of what’s said in a place to bear. One has the dizzying sensation of hovering overhead a crowded train station at holiday time; chaotic though it seems, one does understand that conversations continue, jarring contexts are rattling side by side like boxcars, images, and remarks on physical things–a sign, a face, the light of day–are dropped and reappear, changed by the response and changed as well by conversations around it competing for the human ear. Silliman’s new collection, Age of Huts, brings together several books he’s published as a long-standing project. It makes for alternately exhilarating and exasperating reading. Those who stay with Silliman and his task are rewarded with the most thorough ongoing examination of the American vernacular since William Carlos Williams composed and assembled his central epic poem Paterson in 1963. Silliman’s is the language of a place, and there is a logic as the streams and eddies of unassigned sentences blend variations at once rich and dissonant.
The pieces are independent of their human personalities and the disparate subjects–an unstable mix of the philosophical and inane, autobiographical and picaresque, the snapshot summary and the extended and unmoored disquisition–are materials that are not so much “mashed together” but rather layered, tangled together, interacting in phonemes and bits of invested rhetoric that suggest a great breathing beast. This is a language that collides, contradicts, clarifies and is constantly making absolute statements about character and the nature of place only to have those declarations modified, adjusted, changed into new discourses. Each line can well be said to be the start of another poem. Although the approach foregrounds language as subject while the aesthetic effect of Silliman’s poetry is a collection of unchained references–there is a cubist perspective that arises when one gets a hint that each of the writer’s pieces (non sequitur that they may seem) have physical locations, sites, real people with whom he’s had real conversations–and there is stammering and stuttering rhythm which is oddly musical as he works through his variations on chosen icons.
One appreciates the length to which Silliman has continued his course of examining the ready-made phrases and tropes that constitute the way we address experience and position ourselves in the world. That is the difference between Ron Silliman and others. Anyone who thrilled to the shredded surrealism of Bob Dylan’s liner notes for Bring It All Back Home or Highway 61 Revisited (or found themselves laughing out loud or being stunned with the cranked-up mix of roadhouse wit and word-salad in his lone book Tarantula) will find a kindred spirit in Age of Huts (Compleat). Silliman loves language enough to take it apart to see where, in language, the stress of personality comes in–the irreducible trace of individual intent that survives a language fragment being wrested from a larger context. The sound of words as they’re spoken and linger in memory seems to be Silliman’s central fascination. To say the least, Age of Huts provides the shock and surprise of hearing ourselves speak in our plenitude: variously manic, reserved, joyous, cranky, curious all in the same clusters of utterance.