AROUND THE POETRY WEB PART 3

Was Frost a flarfist?  We’re guessing Silliman has no idea…
Ron Silliman is at it again.  When he takes a rare break from posting talking head videos on his blog and speaks directly to his audience, he’s a wonderful conduit for the know-nothing avant-garde—which has been quietly infesting our institutions of higher learning for the last 50 years.
It’s a deliberate championing of obscurity for obscurity’s sake, propelled by the gnawing envy of the unread on one hand and that intellectual faculty on the other that strives to make being unread a merit in itself.
It’s no accident that this “merit” grows in colleges—where students are the helpless audience (in need of a grade on a transcript) that bows to the playfully sweet will of the artsy-fartsy instructor who reduces learning to a kind of kindergarten “creativity.” This, more often than not, receives praise from the prisoner-student, the student happy to believe they are being “creative,” and needing that easy A.  Standards don’t matter because the “A” and the tuition paid get the job done.
The mistake Silliman and his tribe make is they assume the poetry of John Ashbery, for instance, is metadata: defined as data that provides information about other data.  This is a grave error, and it persists, in spite of, or because of, the error involved.
Memo to the Silliman-ites: The philosophy of Plato is metadata.  The poetry of Ashbery is not.
This distinction escapes them even while they beat the ground and raise a pretentious amount of dust—the merit of obscurity becoming its own self-fulfilling prophecy.
In his review of Richard Blanco’s inauguration poem, Silliman is forced out of his avant-garde cave for a moment and betrays that gnawing envy which grips his type when they are forced to grapple with anything that betokens democracy’s wide, daylight appeal.
Silliman’s entire commentary is a sneering revilement of the whole inaugural poetry event.  Blanco’s poem itself is not given the courtesy of a look.  Blanco is the “gluten-free, lo-cal version” of a genuine avant-garde representative.  All inaugural poems, in Silliman’s eyes, are “flarf.”  Every selection of an inaugural poet, according to Silliman, involves crass geographical politics. JFK wasn’t a real intellectual. JFK’s term was “idyllic” because there was no Fox News.  Everyone carps about the choices, but none should be heeded.  It would be a mistake to think these remarks of Silliman’s are “political.” They are merely dyspeptic.  We present his remarks below and you can judge for yourself.
The only attempt at offering something we can actually chew is Silliman’s passing mention of John Ashbery’s poem “Europe,” from that poet’s 1962 book, The Tennis Court Oath. 
Silliman imagines Rush & O’Reilly close-reading Ashbery’s “Europe” had Ashbery been selected.  Really?  Who in the mainstream would bother close-reading Ashbery?  Silliman knows CNN as well as Fox News wouldn’t bother.  The gushing praise of “Europe” below insinuates—as all praise of Ashbery does—that metadata is at hand; it’s not.
Europe is perhaps the most extreme example of Ashbery’s earlier, experimental work. He used extracts from “Beryl of the Biplane”, a 1917 children’s novel by Bernard LeQueux, for some of the text and mixed in a collage of images of phrases. Some would argue that this remarkable poem is an early example of the postmodern sensibility with its rejection of ‘meaning’ and a deliberate playfulness. Others would argue that it borrows heavily from a distinctly French tradition of juxtosposition and a strong interest in cinematic montage. Either way, reading it is a dizzying experience and Ashbery’s delight in the possibilities of language shines through.
The data is all Ashbery’s, even as he imports “extracts” from other works and brings us “collage” and “postmodern sensibility” and “French tradition,” all these terms brave attempts to manifest an air of metadata—which doesn’t really exist as such.  Plato’s philosophy, which influenced so profoundly the gigantic eras of Renaissance and Romantic explosions in art and science, can be defined as metadata: light streaming outward, “data providing information about other data;” Ashbery’s snippets of collage collect; they do not create.  The “information” in an Ashbery poem remains information in terms of the poem’s random nature.  There is no philosophy throwing light on other things; things connected to things in Asbhery are trivial connections; interesting, as of course sometimes trivia is, but never rising to the definition of metadata.
And we close with Silliman’s commentary:
The next time a poet is selected to perform a poem at a presidential inauguration on strictly literary grounds will be the first. The carping after Richard Blanco’s selection tells me more about those who complain than it does about Blanco. The same was true for those who bemoaned and belittled Elizabeth Alexander, Miller Williams, Maya Angelou, James Dickey &, I dare say, Robert Frost. One might make the case that Frost was selected for his pre-eminence as an American icon of poetry, but one should keep in mind that JFK was a president who understood the value – in his idyllic pre-Fox News single term – of positioning himself as an intellectual, garnering a Pulitzer for a ghost-written volume of pop history & preferring in his own time to read James Bond novels. Ian Fleming may qualify as a heavyweight alongside whatever the Bushies read, but when Kennedy got together with Marilyn Monroe, it wasn’t the president who was the serious reader in the room. And there never has been a white male inaugural poet who wasn’t selected at least partly as a play on the regional card to boot: New England, Georgia, Arkansas.
 
I don’t know what anyone expects from an inaugural poem – the entire premise seems utterly cringe-worthy to me – but signaling a broader inclusiveness in the American project is hardly a bad idea unless you’re one of the old white guys for whose vote Mitt Romney was campaigning.  Since the resulting poems tend toward flarf, perhaps the ideal might be some carved-up-blend of K Silem Mohammad, Judy Grahn & Simon Ortiz. In a sense, Blanco may just be the gluten-free lo-cal version of that. It might be more fun to imagine the field day Rush & O’Reilly would have had close-reading “Europe” had John Ashbery been selected, but really is it any different? With the exception of LBJ, every Democratic president for the past half century has used the occasion to signal that poetry is inside the tent, just as every Republican has spoken far louder through its absence.
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