But instead of Adorno, I’ll put up what I hope is the blogosphere’s very last post (yeah right) on Ron Silliman’s “Post-avant vs. School of Quietude” business. Here goes. It comes as intercalary comments to the excellent Michael Peverett, commenting transatlantically on my last post:
I consider the post-avant / SoQ distinction a perfectly valid one for alluding to the fact that there are two and only two audiences for US (and British) poetry that are interested in discussing the history and current state of poetry. (In other words, a child enjoying a nursery rhyme is an audience for poetry that I don't convict of being in either camp.)[I think you overstate; a good counter-example: the critic Thomas Gardner (see the review earlier this week on John Latta’s Dumpster Island), whose latest book examines the Dickinsonian strain in Charles Wright (slighly post-Poundian SoQ, Susan Howe (definitely P-A), and Jorie Graham (???).]
The two disputatious audiences might indeed be better seen as one graded audience, related by a host of intermediaries somewhat like the interbreeding clines that connect species of mouse that are distinct at their extremes.[Oh indeed, but why then are the “disputacious” extremes necessarily more defining or interesting than the hybridized middles? Yeah, I know what the Lord has to say about Laodiceans…]
KSM [Kasey Mohammad]'s essay didn't attack the binary distinction, only the validity of the suggestion that post-avant somehow maps on to other descriptions, such as politically activist or aggressively loud. An attack on the distinction itself needs to show that there are other coherent, independent, articulate, critical bodies of poetry-lovers who don't fit well into the existing paradigm. And in my opinion those bodies just don't exist right now.[“coherent, independent, articulate, critical bodies” is a pretty high standard – & frankly, I’m not sure either the loudest advocates of P-A poetries or the blithe reviewers of SoQ works fit that description much of the time – but you’re probably largely right. I think it’s in the nature of those who think about & write about poets from across the spectrum – & I’d cite, in addition to Gardner, Eric Selinger, Norman Finkelstein, Lynn Keller, & others – to be more interested in insightful readings of particular poets, tropes, techniques than in polemics on behalf of large tendencies. It remains to be seen what will be more useful in the long run.]
I can't help thinking that among poetry commentators diversity is to be celebrated. [Hear hear!] Silliman could never have gained his infectious enthusiasm, his immense range of knowledge of the US experimental scene without his strict diet of never on any account reading Spenser, Keats, foreign-language poetry, novels or science (slightly unfair, I know). But don't you need someone who'll tell you - and will make you feel interested in - exactly how a poet fits into the Spicer circle or Bay Area poetics? I know I do.[Ron is unsurpassed in his own balliwick – but he has such an indefatigable appetite for poetry, & sometimes a wonderfully unsclerotic ability to accept the “new,” that I’m disappointed whenever I run up against one of his blind spots – & Spenser, Keats, Wordsworth, all of British poetry on the 20th c. save his 4 horsemen is a really big blind spot, no?]
What else can I disagree with? Oh Mark - "ceremonial" - cultures do perceptibly differ, even such similar ones as British and US, but I think it's impossible to narrow down those differences to a phrase; people have written whole books about it, and even so the books are full of contentious generalizations about "tendencies" and "for the most part".[I think I quoted Sean saying “ceremonious” – a minor distinction, but “ceremonious” also invokes simple “politeness,” “formality” in ways that “ceremonial” doesn’t quite.]
I suppose I am a British poetry person and it's true that I can find things in, say, Geraldine Monk that I couldn't expect from any transatlantic poet - bits of mainly demotic, insular culture that only we would know about. But I doubt if these aspects of writing are of outstanding significance and if I listed the English-speaking poets (and poetry-readers) I feel closest to I think there'd be more Americans than Brits. And really, the framework of nationality just doesn't seem helpful here. "Ceremonial" continues to suggest to me things in poetry that I usually don't like (except in Irish Byzantium) and they can be found on both sides of the atlantic but I believe you are tacitly dropping from view such US ceremonialists as Whittier, Longfellow, Allan Tate, and Berryman - and I don't blame you - but in that case it's not fair that British poetry should be characterized by Tomlinson! I don't feel an identification with the kind of poem he writes.CT is an interesting case: if he were an American publishing with Athenaeum or Ecco, Ron would almost certainly consign him to the SoQ forthwith; but he's a Briton, & one who spent a good deal of early energy promoting WCW, LZ, Oppen & others, so that he gets at least a respectful name-check in Ron's blog. Which simply underlines the fact that the SoQ/PA distinction has every bit as much to do with social factors as it does with aesthetic or political ones. At base (one of its bases) it's all about "us & them," an us & them which tends to map the struggles of various tendencies in US poetry in the mid-1980s, & is of less & less use the further we leave that decade behind. For all the usefulness of naming what gets published in the New Yorker, designating it as a "school" rather than a default definition of what poetry itself is, the entire SoQ/PA thing is just too big & vague in the end to be of much use, especially in an era when the automatic equation of aesthetic innovation & insitutional marginalization simply no longer holds.
With respect to the transatlantic divide, I would speculate that Ron's scunner against a certain traditional voice (call it "ceremonious," call it "formal," call it broccoli) which can be heard in Whittier, Longfellow, & Tate, & which he associates primarily with the English poetic canon & thereby consigns to the dustbin of SoQ, is at least part of what keeps him from "hearing" much of contemporary British poetry*; I still hear that voice, that tone, in much of the most disjunctive work coming out of the British Isles, as part of a rather rich mix that doesn't exclude all of the vernacularisms contemporary American poets are so set on.
*Ron's enthusiasm for the American Jennifer Moxley, whose work openly embraces much of the diction & tropes of the English romantics, is one of those frequent and unapologetic inconsistencies in his program (programme?) that I always value.