Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Silliman on School of Quietude, Oxford, and Academic Poetry

Hoo boy.

First let me say that I care neither for Prof. Walcott's alleged sexual indescretions nor for who has what post at Oxford (unless, of course, they are offering me a post -- in which case I accept).

I do, however, care for the framing of this whole "schools of poetry" thing.  At the above link, Silliman refers to both Walcott and Padel as School of Quietude poets.  Certainly I would place them in the world of oral poetry (Walcott, of course, gets a nod as a narrative poet, too).

Now, I've read Omeros.  It was all right.  I would recommend other narrative poems first, though in making a study of contemporary narrative/epic poetry, it's pretty invaluable.  Padel came on to my radar at the same time she came on to yours -- that is, a couple of weeks ago.  In reading the poems she has available on line, I am willing to say she's not a favorite of mine.  Here's a bit from her "latest poem":

At night the savannah comes to claim me.
Thirty females and their calves
in search of a leader. Shaggy manes

down each nape. White bellies, white cheeks 
and that dagger of kohl down the nose.

Kind of that "truncated prose without transistion" school of writing "poetry."  Not that we haven't written it -- but jeez, the featured poem on your website?  Oh well.  Perhaps more "School of Boringtude" or, more accurately, "School of Academia" -- but more on that in a minute.

No.  What really gets my goat is this quote from Silliman:

The surprise is not that the School of Quietude is ruthless in its practice of power politics. That has been its hallmark forever – beginning with a century-long pretense that it represents the whole of poetry, rather than just an anti-modernist / premodernist sliver within a far larger spectrum. No, the surprise is that the SoQ is so very bad at it.

Well of course he's surprised, as his school of avant garde is so good at it.  They circle the wagons, close ranks, and defend their territory with such predictability one thinks they must be orchestrated (though they don't appear to be -- unless there's a kool-aid distributor I've missed).

The real culprit here is not School of Quietude or Avant Garde -- but academic poetry.  As I have said, academic poetry creates these cancerous and mutated growths of "verse" unsupported by market economics.  Even the patronage poets were subject to the whims of the market (even if the market was a noble and his guests).  Academia, however, with its system of tenure and captive audiences, is about as anti-market as you can get (guess that's why everyone in college is a Marxist. . .).

This means that there are no real-world consequences for writing bad verse.  As long as your work fits within a certain mold and you hobnob with the right folk, you're in like flynn.  No matter that your books don't actually sell -- and therefore no one reads your work, you can get acceptance as a "poet" and fleece wannabe poets out of tuition and workshop fees.  Now, this is a great system to get in on, for the established poets.  It's a terrible system for poetry, however, and we've seen the 20th century take poetry from the lips of the masses to the quips of asses.  

It's time we wrote not for tenure but for people.


Kirby Olson said...

I loved your line where you said that they were so GOOD at it. Nice hit, and wow, so true. LANG-PO are like self-organizing bacteria!

Patrick said...

I haven't visited Silliman's blog in months. He really doesn't have all that much to say - to me at least. The last time I was there he was making the same arguments.

I just followed your link. I have no idea who all the respondents are. However, my guess is that they are all involved in the poetry *business* - professionals and students. No one outside the poetry business would ever go to Silliman's blog to learn anything about poetry.

Silliman's blog is an "insider's blog". And to the extent that modern poetry is a largely an irrelevant art form, Silliman's opinions are probably of interest to .01 of .01 percent of the reading public.

I wouldn't get too exercised about his opinions unless you want to end up in that same pool of minnows.

Nobody is listening to him.

Well... ok... I think I maybe counted 12 or 13 individuals who commented on his post - out of the billions of people on this planet.

Get busy writing poetry. It's the only thing that anyone will remember - if anything at all.

G. M. Palmer said...

Patrick --

Producing art is only one half of it. Art must also be distributed. Silliman, for good or ill, represents at least a portion of those involved in poetry distribution (even if they're doing a piss-poor job of it).

Ergo, as a writer concerned with both the production and promotion of better, more-appealing poetry, I feel inclined to give a retort to Ron.

Also, the Walcott dustup was the most press poetry's gotten in a while.

Still no actual poetry in the news though. . .

Nice to hear from you, anyway -- how are things in VT?

Patrick said...

//Producing art is only one half of it. //

Yes, but it's the only half that's remembered. No matter how much mediocrity is pumped out by mediocre editors and artists, none of it will be remembered. I'm not worried. Even in terms of distribution, Silliman is mostly irrelevant.

But then it's *not for me* to tell anyone what to do. I enjoyed reading your riposte.

//Still no actual poetry in the news though. . //

Yeah, telling isn't it...

//Nice to hear from you, anyway -- how are things in VT?//

Yes, nice to check in. VT is beautiful. Black fly season hasn't been bad. But it's not a good time to be a builder. Work is slow. I may have more time to write than I planned.

I've got to find a way to sell out. Maybe a cheesy Romance novel...

Jessie Carty said...

i tried to right a romance novel..but it was too painful :)

even after having gone through an mfa i'm not a fan of constantly classing poetry.

if i like it i like it!

(haven't been to silliman's blog in about a year i have to say)

Anonymous said...

"if i like it i like it!"

exactly. i'm getting tired of reading about schools--avant-garde, post-avant, langpo, quietude, flarf [don't get me started on that one]...

& the thing is, you don't see these kinds of divisions in fiction.

if it's good, it's good!

so why can't we just focus on writing/reading good poetry?

G. M. Palmer said...

You very much do see these divisions in fiction -- scifi, fantasy, "literature," romance, historical fiction, mystery, thriller, etc.

Anonymous said...'re right, obviously. but i guess i was thinking exclusively of "literary fiction" and the avant-garde. i don't know what kind of novels silliman would consider like Dan Brown? hah

and while there are different divisions of fiction, "literary" or not, i don't notice nearly as much posturing of who's more authentic/original/___________ (at least that's the sense i get) as i do with all these poetry camps (esp. from the "a-g" variety). if it's good, it's good.

jh said...

i'm interested in the notion of bad poetry - that there are no consequnces...basically i think there should be some consequnces...i mean if a poet were writing poetry knowing that the publication of such might mean a firing squad it would follow that the poetry would be of a deeper quality...would it not?

prison might be a more humane option but i do think the poets should know that if they're going to be putting some stuff out there they may have to pay dearly....and then perhaps their best stuff would be discovered long after they die...and that would be ever exciting for literary people

hey pal what you in for

yeah i got 20 yrs for one damn bad poem

did you tell the judge you were sorry

hell no at the time i thought it was a pretty good poem

now of course i think differently
i could die before i get out

don't worry we have some grad students at the U looking for some good historical material
you'll live on in literary criticism
believe me