Monday, January 19, 2009

By the time you read these words, this blog may well have crossed the 2,000,000 visits threshold. The Site Meter counter on the left will tell the tale. I continue to be amazed at the number of visits this blog receives each day, on average over 1,700. People click on roughly twice that number of links; the amount of time the average visitor spends on this site has increased by more than 50 percent in the past year. And the numbers continue to rise: it took six years, four months & three weeks to reach two million, but at the current run rate it would take just four years to reach the next two million. The record for the most number of visits in one hour – 197 – was set January 16.

It was Daniel Silliman who first persuaded me that one could blog about serious topics. Laura Willey taught me the little I know about HTML. Lynn Behrendt has stepped in during the past year to make sure that the blogroll is current. If I had a dollar for every typo that Lynn and others have pointed out, I could probably throw one heck of a party for everyone who has ever read these pages.

As it evolves, this blog is less about me and more about poetry, which is, I think, as it should be. My goal in starting the blog was not simply to promote my own ideas about a form I’ve loved & practiced since I was a teenager, but to get poets themselves talking again, without having to go through the grotesque filter of the academy to do so. The presence of more than one thousand blogs in the blogroll to the left is the best test of how well I might be doing.

I have stayed with a simple format, and with Blogspot, the entire time precisely because I want to make the point that any one can do this. It takes no particular genius, and only the most modest computer skills, to create a blog. Some of the features I’ve added over time, such as the links lists that turn up here once or twice per week, could be replicated by anyone. The actual format of the links list owes a debt to the poetry of Ted Berrigan as well as to Robert Creeley’s Pieces. I started by putting together some Google alerts, but at this point the majority of links are suggested by readers.

I’m pleased obviously that some of my ideas – that of the post-avant, the School of Quietude, the idea of a New Western or Zen Cowboy tradition of poetry coming out of the New American poetics – have demonstrated some legs. I agree with my harshest critics that School of Quietude, as a construct, is (as one wag put it) criminally vague, but it was never intended as anything other (or better) than a place holder. The minute someone within that tradition begins to take on the responsibility for describing with much greater accuracy its many sub-tendencies and internal points of contention (which surely exist), the phrase will disappear like fog burning off in a morning sky.

That nobody in the past five years has taken up that challenge suggests just how strongly the poetics of the unmarked case is invested in its own invisibility, in the false notion that it is “just poetry,” with the inevitable implication that any poetics that is preceded by an adjective is in some manner marginal, not to be taken seriously. I don’t agree with the phrase Official Verse Culture (and even less with the concept “mainstream,” which is an outright lie) because I don’t think there is any necessary connection between this verse tradition and institutional power. Power is something that could & should be shared by all the traditions of poetry.

Described and conceptualized correctly, the conservative tradition that I have been characterizing as the School of Quietude has a history that is long & interesting, perhaps more than one might think since its roots are pretty much forgotten. In the U.S., it extends back not to Dickinson & Whitman, but to Jones Very, James Russell Lowell, Sidney Lanier & their peers. One of the great questions for the School of Quietude is why does it let its history languish so? A second one might be why are so many of its greatest practitioners, starting with Hart Crane & Wallace Stevens, perpetually rebelling against its norms? If I were a young poet working in that tradition (and, forty-plus years ago, I was just such a poet), the implications of questions like these would make me think very hard about the long-term wisdom of what I was doing.

So I will keep making this point, obnoxious as it surely is, until somebody shuts me up by actually doing the work needed to describe the true terrain of that side of the literary spectrum. But I agree that once somebody does this, the acronym SoQ will very quickly go into the dustbin of history.

Conversely, I’m also very pleased to see the emergence of actual tendencies of poetry in the U.S. that are clear enough in their aesthetics, their politics, and their sense of themselves to take on names – flarf, conceptual poetics, possibly even American hybrid (a better term than elliptical, tho I’m not convinced that it’s any more descriptive of what’s really going on there than “third way”). More than anything, I think this new militancy represents a generational change in poetry, and all to the good. The poets (if not the poetry) that came after language writing tended very much to avoid such terms and group designations. To a significant degree, I think that that allergy toward self- and group identification ran historically parallel to the ascendancy of the right after the election of Ronald Reagan (& deepened by the so-called fall of Communism). Perhaps we all owe George W. Bush a big vote of thanks for bringing that period to a close. That poets no longer feel so constrained is, I think, a good thing. But I think that there is also lots of room for argument, even among post-avants, as to what’s useful or interesting to do.

For one thing, it’s worth noting that the only literary movement that truly is post-language poetry in the sense of doing things langpo never envisioned would seem to be flarf. Conceptual poetics seems weighted down with neo-Dada / neo-Fluxus nostalgia (& Fluxus already was a movement dripping with nostalgia). Hybrid writing is that aesthetic of not taking sides – it should work out as well for these poets as it did for M.L. Rosenthal’s idea of confessionalism, that pained & silly attempt to suggest that Robert Lowell & Anne Sexton were doing the same thing as Allen Ginsberg & the Beats & therefore really were more interesting than their poetry.

And I don’t think anybody yet has figured out how to handle the evolving revolution in poetry’s relationship to its audience. We have way more than ten thousand publishing poets in the English language, which is maybe ten times what it was when I was in my early 20s & close to 100 times what it was when the New Americans were making their way in the 1950s. In another decade, we will easily have more than 20,000 publishing poets. Does anybody think that the actual reading audience for poetry has grown proportionately? (The only way to answer yes to that is if you think nobody reads poetry – or at least reads it seriously – but poets.) This is a far more profound change than, say, the collapse of trade publishing, the death of bookstores that won’t carry your chapbook, or the fact that we are producing close to a thousand new poets every year when the number of jobs for poets expands by about 50.

All of which is to say that there is a lot to talk about, think about, do if you’re a poet or even vaguely interested in the art. Thanks for coming along for the ride this far. I appreciate your comments, your contributions, and your own blogs more than you’ll ever know.