Showing posts with label blogging. Show all posts
Showing posts with label blogging. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

I have never thought of myself as an experimental writer, but this project is clearly a step into un- (or at least under-) charted territory. My idea is to write briefly from time to time mostly about my writing and whatever I might be thinking about poetry at the moment. Other subjects (music, politics, etc.) may enter in, as they do in life. 

Blogs have been around for a while now, but to date I haven't seen a genuinely good one devoted to contemporary poetry, so it may prove that there is no audience for such an endeavor. But this project isn't about audience. The fact that the blog has the potential to carry forward the best elements of a journal and seems inherently prone to digressive, if not absolutely plotless, prose gives me hope that this form might prove amenable to critical thinking. 

I posted this note to the blog ten years ago today, though in fact I’d written it a few days earlier, on a PC available for public use at the Whale Watching station on Brier Island, off the southern tip of Digby Neck in Nova Scotia. In ought-two, there wasn’t a lot of competition for the PC and I was able to check emails, while also fiddling with an idea I had had about using Blogger as a medium for publishing critical thought. That thought I had had implanted in my poor brain by reading the ongoing blog of my nephew Daniel, in those days a philosophy-journalism undergrad at Hillsdale College, who was posting his philosophy papers online. Much of what I’d seen of blogging prior to that point was not unlike what one hears in snarky putdowns of other social media today, such as Twitter & Facebook, that it was largely the domain of teenage narcissism at its most puerile. One look at a serious discussion was all it took to disabuse me of that impression, and there was hardly ever an undergrad more earnestly serious than my nephew, a trait for which I love him dearly & respect him even more.

Contrary to what I wrote in that second paragraph, there were already intelligent blogs that either included poetry – such as Mark Woods’ woods lot, which continues to this day, and the long “dead” blog called Laurable by Laura Willey. But in the August of 2002 I’d heard of neither of these – Laura found me pretty quickly, as she was already on the Buffalo Poetics listserv, and generously taught me the rudiments of HTML.

Ten years is an eon in the age of the internet, and my blogging has changed substantially over that period. Some of those changes were dictated by external events – constant speed-ups at my day job cut into the amount of time I could devote to any other activity, including sleep & family life. Others were the result of the blog itself. I was able to articulate a set of concerns I had (and largely still have) about the state of poetry, and I was able to disseminate these concerns beyond the confines of my PC quickly and over a wider geographic distance than I had ever imagined. I have been amazed – and continue to be – at just how far my work has spread without all that much translation, and to this date still no books in a foreign language. Because – something I know now – I had not fully understood just how far the English language has traveled and that any poet in the US is being read, sometimes hopefully & often with suspicion (both of which are thoroughly deserved), anywhere English is the language of commerce, which is pretty much everywhere.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

One forgets just how thoroughly internalized the smell of fog can be, how entirely comforting, familiar. In spite of the rigors of travel – six different beds over a stretch of nine days – a return to one’s home town after a period of years triggers so many of the psyche’s pathways that it’s, if not rejuvenating, reorienting. And one’s “home town” has nothing to do with jurisdiction – mine stretches all over the Bay Area, from Bernal Heights in San Francisco, to Pleasanton & Alamo in the East Bay to Fourth Street in San Rafael. In Berkeley, the spate of larger buildings – not skyscrapers, exactly, but no longer just one or two storey structures – gives University a very different feel, while a string of “adult massage” parlors on San Pablo in Albany made me conscious that politics & policy had taken a turn there. Of the family homes I drove past while there, my great grandmother’s on Modoc in Berkeley appears to be better kept than the one on Neilson in Albany in which I grew up (way too many cars in that narrow driveway) or the one house in Berkeley, on Curtis, that I bought with my own money, its little front garden devolved into a jungle.

The trip constituted a loop of the region – from SFO to Sunnyvale for a day full of meetings & then the long drive up through Fremont & Oakland to get to Moe’s where I read to an all-star audience. Staying overnight in Albany, I met Richard Krech, the poet who first published me in 1965, at Mama’s Royal Café, then headed up to Sebastopol where I worked for two solid days with Cecelia Belle & Marcus Bennett going through the archives of David Bromige. We found at least 100 pages of material that we will need to be adding to the forthcoming Collected Poems. Then I headed back to Berkeley, where I caught ROVA’s concert at the University Art Museum. Great concert, great acoustics – the quartet spread out and used the entire building as a sound-box for their work. Finally, Saturday morning, I crossed over the Bay Bridge through San Francisco – my only time in the City – on the way back to SFO. It was exhausting, exhilarating, filled with sites & details that will take weeks, if not months, to process. Thanks to all who fed & sheltered me along the way!

Does the mailman read my blog? While I was gone, I received exactly one book and one magazine. Yesterday, 19 books showed up. I had not put a stop on my mail.

Also, before I left, I asked some questions about the nature of this blog, and got a good number of responses, the most important results of which seem to be the following. At least 80% of you want me to continue the blog, and maybe a dozen suggested that I should think about guest bloggers from time to time, an idea that I am in fact contemplating. There does seem to be a difference between who reads the blog and who reads my tweets, so switching from one to the other for links isn’t precisely a transparent process. I guess we’re going to be going with both/and rather than either/or for the foreseeable future.

Of the 20% who don’t think I need to continue, I could discern at least three subgroups: those who think I’ve “served my time,” those who think the blog format has run its course, plus those who think I’m an idiot or (my favorite) “in the way,” as tho the 1,300+ bloggers listed on my blog roll alone can’t speak their minds until someone shovels dirt over me. Good luck with that.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The day this pops up on the blog, I will be flying out to California, having just spent one day at home after having gotten back from the conference on The Alphabet at the University of Windsor in Ontario. After a day with a client in Silicon Valley, I’m giving a reading at Moe’s in Berkeley with Steven Farmer on Wednesday, then spending much of the next two days going through the archives of David Bromige, whose Collected Poems I’m co-editing with Bob Perelman & Jack Krick. Later in April, I will be participating in an event as part of the Grand Piano collective at Poets House in New York, then at month’s end traveling to Bury, Lancashire, for the Text Festival. This is an intensive a period given over to the public side of my writing as I’ve had in years, literally, and I expect to end up quite winded by the process. Not mention thoroughly in awe of the likes of Rae Armantrout or Charles Bernstein, for whom this much travel is pretty much business-as-usual.

What I rather doubt I will have done, tho, is to write more notes for this blog. I’ve been maintaining the blog for more than eight years and as I think about all the changes I want to be making over the rest of this year, most of which are predicated around my desire to have more time to write, it makes me realize that what was once the newest thing on the block has by now become normative, even predictable. Blogs continue to have their uses, but in web time nothing stands still as a form for ten years.

For example, having by now arrived at more than 1,300 followers on Twitter, might it not make just as much sense to forego the massive link dumps here for individual posts there? I have some questions about the efficacy of Twitter, but I have them about this format as well. When I posted my links list last week, it included over 300 links – but my file of potential links had grown to more than 500 that I simply never got to.

Likewise, having reached my maximum number of permitted Facebook Friends – I can only add somebody when somebody else unfriends me or quits Facebook altogether – I have had to set up a rudimentary “fan page.” Unless you are a close personal friend, it makes much more sense for you to “like” that page than to try & link to my clogged-out personal page. As I grow more comfortable with that format, I may figure out how to get tweets to automatically show up on the fan page rather than the personal one, etc.

What all this adds up is that I’m contemplating changes here – as elsewhere – and any ideas you might have as to what might work best, or even just better, would certainly be appreciated. The email address on the left is the best way to communicate.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

NB: Between now and the end of October, the old comments streams have been turned back on so that authors might retrieve their words of wisdom. No new comments will be approved.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Sometime in the next 24 hours this blog will welcome its 3 millionth visitor.

Each time it reaches another half million visits, I’ve used the occasion to say thank you. Writing the blog has taught me many things, some of which I anticipated, but more which I did not. I was right in my presumption that blogging – and the other forms of social networking that have risen in the eight years since I started down this path – offered poets a means of communicating with one another without the funneling process of the academy. But I had no clue just how much the scale of poetry – the absolute number of practicing poets – had changed since, say, the 1970s. Or how much that in itself was transforming poetry. The fundamental fissures between literary traditions – and the deeper social values they embody – have not gone away, but these have been overwhelmed by the onslaught of new ideas, new aesthetics, new combinations that people are coming up with daily.

This will change what it means to be a poet in every way imaginable. In my book The New Sentence, I contrast the situation of the 1980s with that of the years immediately following World War 2. In the late 1940s, the total number of titles published in the US in any given year was around 8,000. By all authors on all topics. By the early 1980s, that number had exploded to somewhat over 200,000. Today, however, that number stands at one million titles per year. And there are numerous studies showing that we are all reading less. The total US population has doubled since the end of the Second World War. Put another way, in the 1940s there were more than 9,300 adults for each title published. Today there are 150.

Our relationship to audiences, the expectations of readers, the definition of a career, indeed even of a book, these are all up for grabs. So are concepts like bookstore, publisher & copyright. The distribution system is in chaos. Barnes & Noble and Borders seem unlikely to survive long enough to celebrate their monopolization of the brick-&-mortar retail space as they in turn are driven from business by the rise of the internet. Even the great warehouse logistics at the heart of Amazon are themselves threatened by the rise of the e-book. Amazon’s offer to pay authors 70% of e-book royalties is, we should note, a deeply defensive gesture. What they are trying to prevent is watching the authors collect 100%.

But 100% of what exactly? That is the question. Followed quickly by how.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

A representative sampling of some of my email this week:

I can certainly understand your exasperation –– maddened by the buzzing of flies, as Mallarmé’s phrase has it––but I’m saddened to see the comments go.

 Or perhaps “Pitch deflileth” is the appropriate quotation, with its ugly echo of Berryman’s dysfunctional, yes, and pathetic, yes, dismissal of Creeley. Tiresome wars, and so many muscle-bound heroes sulking in their tents, as Joe Green once quipped about me in that very stream more than a few years ago.

 Truth to tell, I’d been feeling that the box had lost its spark. And taken some crass turns. But still...

It feels very weird not having your blog to go to check new comments. You feel more gone from it, somehow. I don't think I like it.

I was chagrined to see you close comments on your blog.  I understand the problem. There are a lot of crazies out there, to be sure.

Good call turning off the comments. Will probably draw criticism. Stick to it.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

In 1965, when I first saw Allen Ginsberg at the Berkeley Poetry Conference, he was introduced as a man who had just been harassed by the police in Prague & expelled from Czechoslovakia. At that same conference, Charles Olson gave such a rowdy & endless “talk” that campus security finally cut the power to the room to shut it down. Immediately after the conference, Louis Simpson, a UC English Department professor, announced he was accepting a position on the East Coast because there was no support for poetry in a place like Berkeley – it was apparent that he meant his kind of poetry. This was carried in the local papers with none of the requisite contextualization.

Just 18, I was already reading the likes of Norman Podhoretz’ attacks on the Beats. And I’d read the introduction to the Allen anthology, which made clear that the feeling was mutual. If I had missed the coverage of the Howl trial in the local media when I was 11, I had certainly seen the coverage of the various court cases of Lenny Bruce, so was hardly surprised when the San Francisco police in 1966 attempted to prosecute both Michael McClure’s The Beard & Lenore Kandel’s The Love Book for obscenity. Since a standard defense of any artwork from an obscenity prosecution in those days – a vestige of the Ulysses trial decades before – was the value of the art involved, I dropped a note to the San Francisco Chronicle suggesting that The Love Book represented an important opportunity to defend the right of a mediocre work to use the same four-letter words. Soon enough, I had the opportunity to watch Robert Duncan (whom, at that point, I barely knew) denounce my reactionary failure to recognize the “new language of love” that Kandel had pioneered, both at a large rally at San Francisco State & on KQED TV.

Friday, June 25, 2010

At 3:00 PM yesterday, we had a short (10 minutes max as far as thunder & lightning & rain were concerned), intense (the storm traveled at 55 MPH with wind gusts up to 70 MPH) thunderstorm that left 280,000 people, mostly in Chester & Delaware counties, without power. As of Friday morning, PECO promises to have our power back “within several days.”

Monday, June 07, 2010

Hard copy is truth.

I’ve said that before, but I was reminded of the harsh reality of that saying last Thursday night. While I was at an awards ceremony for one of my sons, the hard drive on my HP Pavilion decided to fail catastrophically. I thought we had gotten beyond ye olde blue screen of death, but such is not the case. Another old saying came to my mind later in the evening, as I was “enjoying” a text chat with somebody at HP support – there are only two kinds of hard drives, those that have failed & those that are going to fail.

I knew, immediately, that my own failure to create a set of boot disks was going to be a problem. As, it turned out, was the fact that my system had a one-year warranty and was now one-year and a few weeks old. Fortunately, I had purchased a two-year extension to the on-site support of the warranty. Not so fortunately, the database at HP support has not (yet) acknowledged that extension. But at one point in the process of attempting to restore the system, it did reformat the drive. Whatever file data was there is now pretty much toast.

So what did I lose?

Part of a links list that was originally intended to run today.

Part of a list of recently received books that was intended to run tomorrow.

The first paragraph of a review of Steve Carey’s Selected Poems that I have not yet written because I decided to wait until I finished my review of Chris McCreary’s Undone, which I have not yet written period. I’m still trying to make up my mind how much I should focus just on Undone or whether I should incorporate, by way of contrast, a review of Graham Foust’s A Mouth in California, so that I can make this more of a discussion of The New Precisionism. I still haven’t decided whether that is one note or two.

Maybe 200 lines intended for use in Feral Machines, which like Revelator, is to be a section of Universe. Some of these may be backed up on my wife’s PC upstairs, an old XP system that chugs along. That’s because some of it was written originally on a Palm Pilot (most of the rest on my cell phone), which didn’t sync up with Vista.

Some photos that I believe I still have on a flash drive on my camera.

A fair amount of downloaded music & spoken word audio that I can probably find again in one form or another. The most precious to me was the most recent ROVA CD, but I also own that hard copy. Hard copy is truth.

A bunch of PDF files of stuff I’m interested in reading. Some of this is no longer available, because it was only online for a brief period, such as the most recent e-book free-for-all from Poetry Super Highway. That really is gone for good.

Most everything else I either have on an external hard drive backup, which has everything from another old PC, or in one of two cloud storage programs that I use. Some of what I don’t have there – drafts of my old Grand Piano sections, for example – I can track down as attachments to emails to my co-authors.

But what a lot of work!

This is one of those moments when I remember that my habit of doing my first drafts almost always in longhand – Feral Machines is the one current exception, partly composed on an old Palm Pilot, partly on my cell phone – is about more than just always seeking to recapture the writing experience as I knew it first when I was ten years old (tho, to be frank, that is the important reason). Hard copy is truth, and so long as I have the physical notebook in which I’m working or in which I have worked, I’m golden.

I’m reminded of the devastation people suffer when their homes burn or are destroyed by flood, tornado, earthquake or some other disaster. I have been very fortunate in my life never to have suffered such a catastrophe. My half-sister Nancy lost her home when Hurricane Hugo plowed into Charleston back in 1989. Afterwards, she moved in with her boyfriend (now husband) & when she finally received her insurance settlement, she used it to buy a Winnebago that sits outside their home like a waiting brontosaurus. Everything that is personally important to her in the physical world is stored in that RV and anytime there is a hurricane warning, she & it are headed to the mountains.

I have somewhere between five & ten thousand books, a number that would have been higher if only the tiny size of the houses in the East Bay had not constrained my book buying habits before we moved to Chester County. Those and the notebooks of the works currently in progress are really pretty much the only material possessions I have that matter to me. It’s not that there aren’t other objects that have a personal meaning for me – for example, my grandparents’ wedding photo, the two photographs I have of my father (the only ones I have of him), the helmet my grandfather wore when he served in the army in Paris in 1917 & ’18 – but I understand that they’re objects, and that what really is meaningful to me are relationships, to my wife & sons, to my family & friends.

So I know that I need to do a better job of backing up my files going forward, but I’m not feeling the sense of loss & despair that hit me when I fried a hard drive just by flicking a circuit breaker in my old house in Berkeley sometime around 1989 or so. The net makes a difference, in that an ability to back stuff up to the cloud is a protection even if a tornado touches down over my house. Still, the idea that a library could be as a fragile as a hard drive gives me pause.

All of which is to say that life may be a little ragged here for a few days or weeks.

And to those whose links I had & have now lost, let me apologize in advance.


Also worth noting, while I’m at this. I’ve begun to use a Blogger tool that throws the remainder of a note onto a second page if its length suggests that Blogger will freak out & obliterate my other recent notes. It shows up on the lower left and looks like this:

Friday, March 05, 2010

The story as best I understand it is this: Blogger in its something-less-than-infinite wisdom has been worrying about its latency rate, the amount of time it takes for individual pages to load, throughout the entire Blogspot system. The problem, Blogger concluded, was that some pages offer TMI. So it decided that it should limit how much data can go onto a single page throughout the entire system. But it didn’t warn users properly and it still doesn’t offer any mechanism for knowing how much is too much. Obviously my blogroll and my standard links list are issues. So is some of my use of graphics – no more grids of ten book covers at the top of a Recently Received list.

I’ve moved the blogroll onto its own page, at least for the time being. There is a link in red in the left hand column. We¹ will continue to update it monthly (or thereabouts). And I will try to run links lists more often so that they will be shorter. I may go to a format like the one my nephew Dan uses – yes, we trade links all the time – but I want to be cautious about this, since I pay a lot of attention to order & to the verbal framing that goes into the link itself. If I can get this straightened out, I hope to bring the blogroll back here.

I’ve also re-configured my archives from monthly to weekly, which has the counter-intuitive consequence of making my archives list more than four times the length it used to be. But the material under each archive link is now limited to seven days, not as many as 31. That helps for some weeks, but I want to check it out for as many as possible. If need be, I may delete some of the older links lists, or even use the links page for them and move the blogroll back here.

I’ve tested Wordpress and there’s no question I could make it work going forward. Incorporating seven years of older blogs is another matter. It puts in aribtrary hard breaks (like after the first word) into what were once standard prose paragraphs. What it does to the formatting of poems I couldn’t even begin to guess, but I suspect it’s not pretty. I would spend a year or more just reformatting the archives if I did that. Still, if I continue to experience Blogger issues, I may move while retaining the older archives here. A million words is a lot to move.

And, as I’ve been asked this a dozen times, yes, I have complete archives offline – or will once I do February’s. One project for the future is to edit a series of small books around specific subjects, but I’m some ways away from that as yet.

In the meantime, thanks for your patience!


¹ Lynn Behrendt, who does the heavy lifting of staying current with which blogs have gone dark & is continually adding new ones, and myself, doing a little bit of formatting at the end of the process.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

No, I do not know what is going wrong with my older posts. I haven’t changed the template at all, and have set it to post the past 35 days to no avail. I did just post my 2,500th note here (hard to imagine!), so maybe I’m running up against some Blogger limitation, a “hidden feature.” Maybe it’s time to think about Word Press….

Friday, January 08, 2010

Every once in awhile, somebody says or writes something so over the top that it makes you stop & ponder what the real content of the message is. Thus, when I see a tweet such as the following by M. Alt., the pseudonym of an apparently Anglo male (big surprise) in Korea, that

Ron Silliman: your blog is a fucking graveyard, you morbid fuck.

I stop to ask myself what it is that I’m doing & why. And this was before yesterday’s note, memorializing Lhasa de Sela & Kenneth Noland, or even the mentions in Tuesday’s linkstream that Don Belton, Jaromir Horec & James Kavanaugh had died. What does it mean that I’ve noted eight deaths in one week?

One thing it invariably means is that I’ve missed some folks. When I read Poets & Writers, I note their lists of the recently departed & always discover a few writers either that I’ve never heard of before, or whose passing managed to skip past my own information resources, mostly because they never received an obit in a medium that touched the net.

I do hear, maybe two or three times per year, some negative comment about my memorializing the passing of poets and other artists whose lives & work I think relevant to the poetics focus of this blog, such as musicians & painters. But for every negative comment, I receive somewhere between 20 & 30 positive ones, including long heartfelt messages from family members of the deceased thanking me for taking the time to note their loved one and put up a few relevant links. That’s a ratio I can certainly live with.

I did not envision doing this when I began this blog back in 2002. I began rather by accident when I noted the passing of Robert Creeley. All I did when the news came from Marfa that he had died was put up a photo and a couple of links, but I noticed very quickly that my readership that week rose something like 40 percent. I was personally too upset by Bob’s passing to write any more right away, and yet people kept coming back to that blog note as if I had done something meaningful. My readership never went back down to its earlier numbers. Obviously this was touching people in a way I had not anticipated.

This forced me to recognize that the nature of my blog had changed somewhat, and was changing still. It was no longer simply me & my opinions, even if that’s all I had wanted it to be. It was becoming more of a community institution, an online zócalo, a web plaza to which people might come for news & information, not simply to hear me on my soapbox preach about the evils of Quietude. That was the point where I began to take adding lists of links to news items related to poetry (& more generally the arts) seriously. And I realized that I needed to cover more than just “my kind” of verse, nor just American, English language or western poetics. Just as the world of poetry is no longer the white male enclave it proclaimed itself to be 50 years ago (the year that The New American Poetry was published containing 39 white males, 1 African-American male & 4 white women), the idea that English language poetry can operate ignorant of the poetries in that language of Africa and/or India is going to seem ludicrous soon enough. Why not acknowledge that right now?

So my sense of this endeavor evolved, and with it the idea of noting significant passings got added to the mix. When you think of the fact that there are – to use the low-end figure – 20,000 publishing poets in the English language, and perhaps that many substantial artists in relevant other media, what you get is a community of some 40,000 adults, about what you might expect of a small city (Wilmington, Delaware or Berkeley, California, for example). When you plot out what 40,000 lives between the ages of 25 & mid-80s might look like on an actuarial table, you would anticipate something close to 800 deaths per year. Fortunately, this community skews quite young. There were only a few hundred such poets in the 1950s, which means that the number now in their 80s is disproportionately small when compared against an “average” community of similar size. My response to M. Alt is that it could be a whole lot worse than what you see here. And in 30, 40, 50 years, it most certainly will be.

As my sense of this blog evolved, I began to do some things differently. Not only did I do some things you might expect more from a community newspaper, such as include memorial notices & links of resources, I began to get some help. Lynn Behrendt does the remarkable job of keeping over 1200 blog addresses current each month and is the person who thought up the addition of collective blogs to that list (which several readers have told me is the best part of it as well). Don Wentworth contributes at least a quarter of the links you read each week. I’ve gradually shifted away from using bots & alerts to gather news to the point where maybe 80 percent of the links you see on the link lists have been sent to me by someone. Including personal friends and colleagues of Vic Chesnutt & Lhasa de Sela who felt they deserved to be acknowledged here.

And, I should note, this blog & the arts community it serves is not the whole of my life any more than it is yours. In the past week, the two most significant deaths in my life were of friends whom I have not mentioned here until now. Mark Helwege was a colleague of mine at IBM who was the VP of worldwide sales at Brainware when he died of a heart attack last weekend. John Irwin was a one-time armed robber who made himself into one of the best sociologists of prison life in America. Through his books, his work at San Francisco State & especially his role as the Gandalf of the Prisoners Union in California, John was perhaps the single most influential figure in the prison reform movement in California during the last half of the 20th century.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

I have become accustomed to pausing to say thank you whenever this blog reaches a new milestone. Today, eleven months & one week after having passed the two million visit mark, we – you & I together – pass the 2.5 million threshold. Thank you, thank you, thank you. That it should happen today is one of the great little ironies of life.

2,500,000 feels quite amazing to me. To be honest, the 50,000 mark felt stunning when I reached it in August 2003, not quite a full year into this project. If you told me then what the numbers would be now, I would not have believed you.

Which brings up a good point someone on the comments stream, I think it may have been Johannes Göransson, made the other day ( not, I should note, Monday) – that my binary opposition of the two literary traditions, quietism and the post-avant, has become ludicrous. I’m of mixed minds about that criticism. When I look back, as I did Monday, at 28 straight years of quietist Pulitzers, a string still unbroken, I think the empirical evidence is flat out overwhelming. And when I think of Johannes' impluse (see Monday's comments stream) to read literature ahistorically, my instinct is to be distrustful. But when I look at my own blog, and at that list in the left column of more than 1,200 other blogs, 98% of which are likewise discussing poetry, day in & day out, I think Johannes is quite right. The old model of doing business has been irrevocably broken. Something completely new is afoot. If anything, the old binary could make it harder to see clearly just what that is.

How can both of these be true at the same time?

Partly I think the answer is generational. If you came into poetry in the mid-1960s as I did, when poets such as Allen Ginsberg, Robert Creeley, John Ashbery & Larry Eigner were still in their thirties, as were Donald Hall, Bill Merwin & Robert Bly, when the Allen anthology was still a new book, Howl less than ten years old & the newly published Naked Lunch something that could be found in relatively few bookstores, the cleavage between the Raw & the Cooked – as Robert Lowell once characterized the two traditions – was a gulf. To anyone who is in their sixties now, or who (like The New York Times) primarily gets their information about poetry from people that age or older, that’s still pretty much the map on which all the pins must be placed. American hybrid? Hybrid of what, pray tell, if in fact that old binary isn’t operating just beneath the surface?

But I’ve made that mistake before, so maybe I shouldn’t make it twice. In the late 1980s, I proposed a model of poetry that suggested that the post-avant tradition was disproportionately white through the social function of narrative within different communities. Never having held the subject position, I suggested, people of color might find a need to explore that while others, having held it for centuries, might well be more interested in exploring its fissures & contradictions.

I caught hell for that, initially from Leslie Scalapino, but ultimately from a much wider range of poets, most of them people of color. What they were noticing that I had not was that the composition of younger poets had already changed not only on American campuses, but in the key metro areas that serve as incubators for so much that is new. You might in turn explain this by noting that the middle class itself had already expanded beyond the white enclave one sees, say, today in Mad Men’s recreation of the Sixties. The 1980s were not the 1960s & I was wrong for not noticing.

Still, my outdated vision might have led one to expect that one day we would find a list of finalists for a major prize, such as the National Book Award, divided neatly between white post-avants & black conservatives – exactly the circumstance this year. (And, I might suggest, not the last time we’ll see that particular configuration.) Yet already Nate Mackey has won a National Book Award, so the historical narrative of all this comes as it does in real life, jumbled. The reality is that we live in a transitional period in which all of these phenomena can occur pretty much in any sequence at any time. There is not a right or wrong position here, tho there might well be a “less interesting” or “more interesting” one, which will vary depending on the position of the reader.

But it’s more important to recognize that while 1980s were not the 1960s, the teens of the current century – which get under way in less than 40 days – will not even remotely resemble the 1980s, and may even be more different from the first decade of the new millennium than this old fart is ready to concede. To be a young poet today is to come into a scene where there are already more than 1,000 blogs talking about poetry. I can’t imagine that world, even as I see it right here on my own web page.

So Johannes is unquestionably right. The old binary is just that: old & binary. It’s entirely inadequate to describe the scene of today, even as the inertia of that binary continues to drive some of the phenomena & some of the behavior. The old model will prove even less adequate tomorrow. The real question is, or should be, what models better characterize what is going on now, and what will be going on tomorrow?

Thus my own goal, going forward, will be to get my head out of the 1980s, the 1970s (the focal point, after all, of The Grand Piano project) & the 1960s, at least into the 21st century. Not that I won’t note the inertia of the past as it plays out in the present when that seems appropriate. But because I think the readers here deserve a response, however tentative & groping it may be, to the more interesting question: What’s next?

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.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

It is now becoming self-evident that right around the inauguration of Barack Obama, somewhere between the 18th & 25th of January 2009, this blog will receive its two millionth visit. Already visitors have clicked on more than three million links. I know this is basically one-tenth of what Matt Drudge had yesterday, but for poetry it’s not so bad. The run rate here for 2008 has been a half million visits and a million link clicks, numbers that suggest that there is an audience for whatever it is I’m doing. And the numbers continue to rise: the dates with the most visits ever (2603), and most links clicked (6734), are both within the past two weeks & this will be the first month in which links clicked exceed 100,000. Thank you for stopping by, for reading, for commenting, for arguing & especially for helping me to sharpen my thinking on any number of aspects of poetry.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

As bad as that blown call at first base was last night, it made that last inning – with a five-man infield and that wild final play, an inadvertent suicide squeeze topped with Evan Longoria’s vain scoop of the ball way over the catcher’s head – all the more delicious. People outside of the Philly area might not have noticed, but Tim McGraw actually poured some of his father’s ashes on the mound last night right before the game. Tug McGraw was on the mound the last (and only) time the Phillies won a world series.

Random thoughts: Has there ever been a worse baseball announcer than Tim “PanamaMcCarver? He’s an embarrassment …. Many in the Philadelphia area never saw the homers by Chase Utley & Ryan Howard as Comcast suffered an “equipment failure” that last for over a half hour …. Also, the Philly baseball franchise is older than the city of Tampa Bay by about eight years …. One final thought – if this series goes to seven games, and it easily could, Old Man Moyer (two years younger than “youthful” Barack Obama & only a year older than Sarah “The Moose” Palin) would be the starting pitcher. Could the season come down to watching 25-year-old hitters trying to hit a 74-mph “fastball?”


I corrected the link to Pam Brown’s photos in Friday’s link list, and dropped the one to Julio Cortázar’s Final Exam, which I had likewise mis-linked, but could not find again. If you blogged a review of that book within the last week or so, drop me a note.

Friday, September 19, 2008

I have been asked more than once this week why I do my link lists the way I do – once or twice per week, rosters of links that for the most part come from recent news stories, blog notes that are likewise recent (and often more thoughtful & well-researched as anything “in the media”), plus resources that are either new to the web or at least new to me. There are usually around 100 links and there have been up to around 160 during an especially busy time. Most directly relate to poetry, but close readers will note that I also include news of the publishing industry, in terms of the publishers, the technology and the distribution network (both bookstores & libraries) and likewise news concerning language itself. Then there are usually some links to the larger arts world, to contemporary philosophy & the human sciences, and – rarely – to politics.

In my links on poetry & poetics per se, you’re as apt to read a blog note concerning a recent chapbook by somebody you (and maybe I also) never heard of as an interview with Richard Wilbur, an online newspaper article concerning a poet-politician from the South Asian subcontinent or Africa as a lengthy discourse on the nature of conceptual poetics. There’s a reason – or at least a rationale – to all this.

What I want to provide, first of all, is context. With over 10,000 publishing poets in the English language, there is frankly a lot going on. A lot is going on elsewhere as well. Whether it’s cowboy poetry in Elko, Nevada, the National Slam in Madison, a conference in Nairobi (or Vancouver), Andrew Motion’s whining that being Laureate stopped him from writing (as good an argument for that post as I’ve heard, frankly), or somebody’s spirited attack on conceptual poetry, slow poetry, flarf, whatever – it’s all poetry. Or at least poetry related.

Nobody can read 10,000 poets & keep them even remotely straight in their head, or least nobody short of a Rain Man-type savant. But certainly it makes some sense to at least have some idea what’s going elsewhere, whether elsewhere is the wildly popular reality-TV competitions Prince of Poets and Millions Poets in the Middle East, or the latest prize awarded to a School of Quietude poet in the Middle West.

So this doesn’t mean some of my links won’t be appalling – tho we might not concur on exactly which parts. It does mean that we ignore those aspects of poetry and its “scene” we choose to shunt aside at our own peril – the risk being that, in our own selected ignorance, we manage to make ourselves irrelevant. We could each pretend to be above it all, but frankly one Auggie Kleinzahler is already one too many.

One thing that the more institutional approaches to the dissemination of news about poetry is that, by their very institutional nature, they tend to be more wedded to a single view, that of the School of Q. Even a wannabe site like Poetry Daily demonstrates this seven times a week – they cover the spectrum from A to B as tho C to Z just didn’t exist. And they never give voice to  their partisan perspective, but rather act as tho it were the water & their readers so many fish. To get your news from their news listing is just to remain ignorant.

Jilly Dybka’s Poetry Hut does a much better job, because it’s much more eclectic, but it is restricted by offering far too little of what is out there.

So I want you to know that the folks in Lowell are celebrating the Beats, to know that Evie Shockley has a good reading of Ed Roberson’s work, to read an interview with Adonis, to read Dragnet haiku or take note of the latest collection of Jack Gilbert imitations by Linda Gregg, not to mention seeing the governor of New Jersey standing by a cut-out of William Carlos Williams. It’s all part of the gumbo as Ishmael Reed might put it. And the richer the gumbo the better.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

I’m going to be at the shore for a few days, then out to the Olympic Peninsula for a wedding in Port Townsend. Expect things to be spotty and/or pretty quiet until Labor Day.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Lynn Behrendt has again updated the blogroll, correcting a half dozen accent disappearances, adding & subtracting those that people sent us notes about. The presumption is that once we’ve done this a couple of times that changes will decrease and require less tending of the garden, so to speak. I continue to be in awe of the amount of work she’s done. There are 813 blogs listed.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

For the record, just weeding the blogroll of dead links caused the list to shrink by roughly 250 names, one quarter of its size. There will no doubt be a flurry of new additions – Lynn & I have already received something like 20 additional requests that we’ll get to in the next week or two. As I’ve noted to one or two people already, just because your zine, reading series or line of chapbooks has a Blogspot page doesn’t mean that it should be a part of the blogroll. The entire purpose of this blog, blogroll included, is to encourage discussion between poets & readers of poetry, and that’s really what the list itself is intended to signify & encourage. As is the case with the news links I post once or twice each week, I don’t have to approve of what’s being said, but, so long as it doesn’t strike me as overtly racist or sexist, I have no problems creating a link. Overall, I’ve been pleased overall with reactions to these features – for an hour one day last week, people were clicking on links at a pace slightly faster than one every six seconds.


This link won’t be good for long. But you can catch Robert Browning’s The Ring and the Book as a radio play if you hurry.


I’m going to be on the road for a few days & won’t be taking the laptop. You are on your own till Monday.