Yes, I copied that text off the Tarot card packaging. But it's not Flarf, OK?
Last week at the Fall for the Book Festival Ron Silliman gave a talk on literary blogging. He opened the discussion with how he started blogging and gave some history of poetry movements and publishing in the US. If you follow his blog, you are already familiar with that part of his talk.
I asked him why he thought so many younger poets rejected his labeling a wide, varied group of poets as "School of Quietude" and why many rejected all labels for themselves and their poetry. I labeled anyone under 50 to be "younger," which he called me on -- so let's just say the two or three generations of poets after him. I'm am not desperately holding onto my youth. I embrace my middle-agedness.
It's been a week since he gave the talk and I'm School-of-I-don't-take-notes, but what I understood Ron to be saying was that he thought poets (and people in general) today view themselves more as individuals, but in doing so we're not accepting our social responsibility of considering the impact of our poems and the legacy we leave behind. He said that he thought labels were good and that if we didn't label ourselves, we could expect our "enemies" to do it for us (he listed some examples, for instance how the Beats were named by an unsympathetic critic).
I didn't take his use of the term "enemies" to be literal, but I bristled at both that and the idea being especially concerned with our legacies. Not that I don't think we're not responsible for our poems, I certainly do believe we are responsible. I just think there are different (better?) ways to be socially responsible than by attaching oneself to a group or drawing lines in the sand, viewing differing poetics and poets as opposition. That doesn't mean one can't acknowledge differences or conflicts in differing poetics. We're not all the same. Describing or even labeling differences isn't what bothers me. It's the us and them part. I don't see that as being socially responsible. I don't see that benefiting poetry or poets, not the art, the community or the individuals. I see that as funneling a lot of energy into distinguishing hair-splitting differences and defending a platform one may not entirely agree with for consistency sake or staying within a group. It strikes me as rather limiting.
Ron also said that many poets today are taking a little from here and a little from there instead of studying any one type of poetry or its history in great depth. He's probably right. That would certainly describe me. Why not do that? Why not educate oneself broadly instead of narrowly specializing? Or why not start out broad and focus in depth once feels confidence in one's own artistic identity? Why not grow organically as a poet and just see where that takes you? Why not be a blended poet? In a time when fewer people identify with a sole identity, why would we be expected to identify with one style of poetics? 30 (20?) years ago, bi-racial people were labeled as one race (usually not by their own choice, but by the culture they lived in). The same went for people's cultures, religions, politics, national identity, sexual orientation, career, family, etc. For most people, there were a set number of slots and they had to fit into one. Now that we're starting to move away from those kinds of ideas, isn't it natural that we'd begin to view other things, like poetry, as more multi-faceted?
Isn't the refusal to align oneself with one poetic an evolution of poetry? Could it be that poets are not necessarily any more self-centered or any less socially concerned than poets 50 years ago, but instead rejecting structures that are becoming less applicable and useful today? Could it be that poets are being offered opportunities at greater personal power and are using those opportunities to carve a poetic landscape better suited for poetry, themselves and yes, for future generations to modify and build on. Isn't that a way of considering one's legacy? I don't want future poets to feel constrained by a handful of categories or feel required to create one themselves?
Can't we maintain a personal poetics AND be contributing members to poetry communities and our communities-at-large? I don't need to be a Boy Scout to help a little old lady cross the street. I don't need to be a member of a congregation to donate time or money to worthy causes. I don't need to be a member of a political party to vote.
That's how I see it, anyway.
While Ron was here he went to dinner with my family. A good portion of the conversation revolved around computers and his and Chris' money jobs. Afterwards Chris made an astute observation. Ron does the same in both his money job and on his poetry blog. He identifies and analyzes trends to predict what's coming around the bend. It's an interesting, dare I say individual, way to approach poetry. Who says poets don't have marketable skills?