Friday, May 27, 2005

Divide and concur

Ron Silliman, in his rather excellant blog, is always making assertions about the big division in poetry between what he calls post-avant writing and School of Quietude writing. Post-avant being everything experimental, from New American Poets of the late 40's & 50's (New York, Black Mountain, Spicer circle; in this country, it would be Cambridge school, Writers' Forum etc.) School of Quietude are all those poets who write neat little poems that are largely anecdotal, or formal, small in ambition, but often published by mainstream publishers and seeming to be able to grab the positions of power because they don't disturb the status quo or make challenging demands on the reader...

Which is fair enough; but I can't help feeling that at times he's trying to say that the poets he doesn't like are SoQ and the poems he does are post-avant, especially when he tries to say Shakespeare is on his side, and the "university (t)wits" (Ben Jonson, Marlowe etc) are on the other side. This is rather like me saying that Jesus Christ would have voted Liberal Democrat if he'd been around now. No he wouldn't; he would just as much have been the awkward cuss he was then as he is now; and Shakespeare would probably have looked at the post-avants and the SoQ's and said, "A plague on both your houses!"

Now he's trying to make claims for Chaucer - a man so in with the establishment that he was probably quietly killed off when the establishment changed. But he was a great poet; so he must have been an avant-garde of his time. Well, in the sense that he brought in and used forms from abroad and developed the iambic pentameter, and also broadened the subject matter to include very down to earth and even rude subjects, maybe he was. But it's a bit anachronistic to say the least to make out that people before such things even mattered belonged to poetic camps that are very 20th century.

Human beings like groups. We like to divide ourselves into the good folks (us) and the bad folks (them); the orthodox and the heterodox. And there's a lot of truth in what Ron says about these divisions when it comes to the 20th century. I'm sure too there were lots of rivalries and competiveness between poets in the more distant past. But there's a point at where extending contemporary fights becomes silly.

Anyway, just to let the listeners know, Not In So Many Words, poems and commentaries from the Poetry Business Writing School, is due soon from Smith/Doorstop with a poem of mine and a commentary about the writing of it.

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