Friday, March 17, 2006

questions of scale

Wish I'd been at the Ronald Johnson panel Josh describes so well (tho somehow I've missed its exact location – New York? – & whatever auspices it was held under...). The roundup of participants is a pretty familiar list of names: Joel Bettridge (co-editor of the forthcoming RJ collection), Jena Osman, Barbara Cole, Jonathan Skinner, Josh (I note that the slim and dashing Peter O'Leary was listed to appear, but Josh doesn't describe his presentation, so I suppose he didn't make it?). It's great of course to see Jena, Jonathan, & Barbara – all folks I respect & like very much – writing on Johnson (tho I'm not at all surprised). But all in all, it doesn't sound a whole lot different from the list of suspects RonJonning 5 or 6 years ago, when Joel organized a little conference in Buffalo, followed by a panel I got up for Orono's "Poetry of the 60s" conference.

What strikes me as is that now, going on 10 years after Johnson's death, at least 10 years since the publications of the complete ARK, one could still probably fit all the really dedicated readers of Johnson's work into a single medium-sized lecture room. Heavens, I feel like I could name them myself: the six listed above, the (non-blogging) Eric Selinger, Steve Collis, Norman Finkelstein, Paul Naylor, Devin Johnston, Peter O'Leary's brother Michael, Joel Felix, a few others. I know this list is exaggeratedly short – the Joel Bettridge/Eric Selinger collection that's been forthcoming for the last half-decade is probably going to feature a laundry list of prominent alt-poetry figures; I know Jed Rasula & Rachel Blau DuPlessis are in there.

Which is sort of to say that when I really started reading Johnson in earnest, maybe 20 years ago, I got convinced real fast that he was really BIG, was the BOMB, in fact (I'm trying to avoid that tweedy concept, "a major poet," but I really can't) – but at the time I think only I & Guy Davenport & 5 other people in the world thought so. Well, I'm still convinced – probably more than ever – & now maybe 30 other people think so too. Can't we get things moving along a little faster?


Norman Finkelstein said...

Yo Mark! I missed the RonJon event too (it was at Poets House in Manhattan), though we did have the pleasure of hearing Zach Barocas read here while Xavier lost to Gonzaga in the last two minutes. But to add to your list of serious Johnson readers, check out Don Revell's essay on Johnson and Thoreau in Invisible Green.

E. M. Selinger said...

Thanks for letting me know about this, Mark. No one told me about it, either. Maybe I'm PNG in RJ circles, at least until I breathe some fire down the necks of NPF. (Before I write that $600 permissions check, I'm going to get some answers, believe you me.)

Anyway, I haven't been either blogging or reading blogs--seemed fairer that way--but I plan to get back to both this week. A little new work over at the BJB on Norman today, at least. Check it out--


Chris said...

Where I come from (which is, I guess, Portland, Ore.), it feels like everyone is all gaga over Johnson, to the point where I felt required to pick up part of ARK when I saw it used on the cheap recently (I haven't yet read it). I'm not sure what "serious readers" means specifically (you seem to be talking about "serious writers") but he certainly has his fans.