Saturday, July 31, 2010

are poets really this immature?

Silliman announced today that he's shutting down the comment section on his blog.

what does it say about the larger poetry community that two of the largest public forums for poetry, Silliman's blog and the Poetry Foundation's Harriet blog, have had to completely shut down their comment sections? are poets too stupid and immature to handle civilized dialogue? i still hope not, but that is what this seems to suggest.

i, for one, find it... hilarious (but the kind of hilarious where my faith in humanity dies a little bit).

the Harriet blog shut down conversations a few months ago, giving the nonsense excuse that "blogging is dead" (really? because if that were true, poetry would be so dead that the its myth would be more illusive than rumors of Atlantis). the real reason it was shut down probably being that the comment section made their readership look like complete morons. and please don't think that's an indictment of Poetry Foundation's actual readership. i'm more than willing to give the benefit of the doubt that the commentators were a vocal minority. but that minority did make us all look quite dumb. when Harriet introduced, for a short time, a comment voting system, their readers were completely unable to avoid downvoting thoughtful comments that they merely disagreed with. this is hilarious to me (for same values of hilarious as noted above) because this comment voting system is something that reddit, a large online community of mostly high schoolers, is able to use maturely with only minor difficulty.

i'm conflicted about the decision, though. the Poetry Foundation is undoubtedly one of the more valuable resources for poetry on the web right now, but there's also no doubt that they tend to spoon feed their readership. for instance, when they published some flarf and conceptual poems in one issue, the poems were bizarrely quarantined and effectively apologized for before their actual presentation. is shutting down comments an extension of a kind of lack of faith in their readers; a necessary choice that helps keep their site comfortable to some of their important but thin-skinned blog contributors; or just an attempt to maintain an air of propriety? i don't know the answer, but i do ultimately disagree with the decision. the blog has shifted from a place where people at least tried to deal with interesting poetics topics, to a general links-based overview of the poetry world. still somewhat useful, but much less daring. something has certainly been lost. though, in the "about Harriet" section, you'll still see the claim that Harriet "is dedicated to featuring vibrant online discussions of poetry and poetics." certainly not. if they're honest, that should probably be taken down at this point.

for Silliman though, a lone blogger, there's obviously much less of an argument that he has any duty to provide a discussion space for his readers. it's his decision to make as it's his unpaid time that gets spent on keeping out the bullies, sexists, racists, homophobes and other riff raff. Silliman does still foster conversation by linking once or twice a week to blogs that have responded to his posts.

it is still a disappointment, though. blog comment sections were, for the first 4 years of my serious commitment to poetry, my only access to dialogue about poetry. comment sections make the blogger seem more approachable. i've often assumed that the main reason some poets don't have comment sections on their blogs is because they have no ability to defend their positions. now that i'm more aware of some of the vile comments that Silliman says he has to censor, i guess i'm less likely to make this assumption.

my own approach to online poetry discussion has certainly been shaped by the acidic commenting environment. i've even, at times, been much more likely to enter into some of the more hateful discussions knowing that my ideas have more chance of actually being engaged with on some level.

the more interesting (i think) blogs i've written have been calm observations about poetics. however, my posts have never been engaged with as much as when i've tried to tear apart some of the more prevalent idiocy of those poets who, for some reason, could not stop talking about their hatred for flarf and conceptual poetry.

i'm embarrassed to admit that on at least 2 occasions i inserted insults into blog posts that i wouldn't have otherwise included because i knew that, as a completely unknown commentator, i'm more likely to be taken seriously (or at least engaged with) the more insulting i am. and by no means am i trying to blame the poetry community for my brash way of saying things. i'm all too willing to talk some casual shit about various poetics ideas over some beers with friends, but being insulting is not particularly something i want to be in a publicly readable forum.

on the other hand, while the comment community is unnecessarily petty and vitriolic, it's also clear that some people just have no backbone whatsoever. some poets just have no tolerance for people who challenge their ideas. i can't tell you how many times i've had my head bitten off by a blogger merely for offering a contrary perspective. even after considering to myself that i can often come off as harsh and forceful, and making sure that i've worded my challenges in as polite a demeanor as i could muster, some bloggers still made it quite clear that i was unwelcome to participate in discussions on their blogs. one blogger even emailed me privately, demanding i stop engaging his ideas on my own blog.

but sure, i can't deny participating in vitriolic discussions. and, even though i'd want to argue that it was my way of coping with the available dialogue, having a voracious need for poetry discussions and no other outlet, i also won't skirt the amount of blame i deserve for participating.

all that said, i hope Silliman's comment section opens again someday. though, what i'd really like to see is a truly open public forum for poetics discussions. hopefully something a little more sophisticated than some of the more popular listservs that kind of meet what i'd like to see. for now though, can we all please just grow the fuck up?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


Jessica Smith hits on something i've been wanting to articulate for a while now regarding poetry blogs: the acidity and bitterness of the commenters and even many of the bloggers themselves. in a medium that could be used (and outside of poetry, largely is used) for vibrant discussion, why does the poetry blogosphere end up being mostly men saying mostly unthoughtful (and at their worst, quite degrading) things about other poets? Jessica writes:

in the case of poetry and Silliman’s blog specifically, the bullies are grown people (read: men) who, through some lack of ability to empathize, will lash out at anyone who receives attention they think they themselves should be getting.

this is very true. and for someone like myself, a young poet (albeit a somewhat angry male one), whose only access to the poetry world has often been through the blogs, it's extremely discouraging. like Jessica, i've often felt a desire to not engage with the poetry world at large, perceiving it to be too negative and petty to even bother with.

hopefully, this sparks a larger discussion. my theory (or at least my hope) is that the bullies and haters are a very vocal minority. i would love to see the poetry blogs turn into a more productive environment.

i've written posts to try to combat some of these jealous bullies (Kent Johnson most recently, though he wasn't attacking a younger poet at the time), but it's entirely possible (likely even) that engaging with them at all, even to expose their petty stupid conspiracies, only feeds into the whole fucked up cycle.

anyway, go read her post, cause she has way more interesting things to say than i do here. thanks to Jessica, and maybe i'll try to contribute to this discussion more later.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

"reading 101" OR "reading lol" pronounced "lul" which i'm told is a way to say "asshole" in Dutch

Kent Johnson continues his pathetic vendetta against Ron Silliman. i so wish poetry beef was more like rap beef, without any of this sniveling, and pretending to be all wounded and shit. write a diss chapbook or something, and move on with your life.


the following is a dramatization of the dialogue thus far:

Kent: admit it Ron, you want to MURDER Eliot Weinberger!
Ron: uh, i was quoting someone. i mean, that should be pretty obvious from the rest of the poem. also, isn't it way dramatic to think that the actual speaker of those words actually wants anyone to die?
Kent: woe is me! doesn't anyone MEAN what they say anymore?
Ron: well, i DO mean it Kent, but i mean it in the context of it being a quote, as part of a collage of the language of my surroundings. is that really that difficult of a concept?
Kent: yes well, for some unknowable reason, i actually...and this is crazy... i believe... in my heart... that collage is UNETHICAL.
Ron: wow, that is really weird.
Kent: i know, right?

the background here is that Kent Johnson, poetry troll, believes he has, through some Glenn-Beck's-chalkboard-style reasoning, decoded a secret death wish in Ron Silliman's poem The Alphabet towards Eliot Weinberger. [my initial response here]

Kent Johnson quotes from a private email that "someone" sent him regarding the lines found in Silliman's poem (he basically, but not quite, says it was Ron Silliman): "My intent in quoting those originally was just to note the incredible cattiness of the poetry world". oh Ron, if only you could have known the true cattiness that those lines would latter incite.

Ron's response to Kent's pseudo-logical gymnastics is to inform him that it was a quote. Kent then (and here's the link again in case you missed it the first time) takes Ron's denial of murderous intentions as absolute proof that he is guilty, launching into some bizarre tirade about how quotes and collage are, yes, inherently unethical. His words:
To what extent has a flippant and self-serving attitude towards the materials one “collects” come to inflect, let us say infect, a good chunk of current avant aesthetic, vacating it of any discernible sense of ethic or moral claim?
uh, what sort of moral claim needs to be made to quote something you overheard someone say in public? and how is using overheard language at all unique to the "avant aesthetic"?

speaking of moral claim, i could never, in good conscience, create an imaginary windbag to straw-man the language poetry haters that is even close to being as ridiculous as Kent Johnson actually is. even addressing his arguments actually seems a little unfair to all the intelligent people who hate language poetry.

so... this is what i've gathered from Kent's "thinking":
the avant-garde actually invented the idea of quoting people in poems. not only that, they also invented saying things that weren't meant to be read as the direct first-person thoughts of the poet. really, they did. before language poetry, poet's never quoted anyone, or spoke satirically, or anything else that you've probably come to take for granted as the obvious spectrum of human communication.

remember before post-moderism when every poet meant every line of a poem in the most sincere way? sigh -- how humanity has fallen.

i think that it's safe to say, at this point, that Kent Johnson has never read a poem he's understood. actually, forget poetry, Kent pretends not to even understand how to interpret an introspective voice. for instance, i just thought the sentence "that chick probably has the hots for me" even though I know that she's just a good tipper. for Kent, poetry is not capable of exploring even this small level of nuance of meaning without shoving ethics (or Eliot Weinberger) right out the window. if a writer writes something, they can only "mean it" or "not mean it". of course, "not meaning it" includes quoting something, satire, stray thoughts, half-hearted musings, and really everything that's not the deeply held belief of the writer in question. and this entirely new way of writing, this "not meaning it" (as Kent must think of it) is DESTROYING YOUR WAY OF LIFE.

and what's next? think of the children, think of what language poetry will do to your children.

my favorite favorite part of Kent's post is when he thinks i would have to bring up his faux-poet persona Yasusada to make a point about it being disingenuous that he's complaining that it's unethical to take someone's words out of context. i mean... i'm speechless.

Monday, July 12, 2010

La Cucaracha

Conspiracy crackers John Latta and Kent Johnson, pasty basement dwellers, comb through the dangerous language poetry texts, decoding the hidden plans of your most beloved poets. Kent, why go to John Latta with this information? Why not alert the FBI? Everyone, Ron Silliman just may be guilty of... MURDER!

In Ron Silliman's 1,054 page poem The Alphabet, made up mostly of collaged sentences, found and lost language, jumbled musings (sincere and insincere), and other endless (and often exciting) non-lyrical techniques, apparently (on page 348) he once wrote the lines:
if only Eliot Weinberger
had married Carl Andre

How do you say “asshole” in Dutch?
So, I guess Carl Andre threw his wife out the window or something. I'll gladly go on and on about this in the comment section if you ask me to, but for now I know I don't have to explain to anyone who knows what a poem is why we don't quite have enough evidence to send in the SWAT team... yet!

The lines collaged previous to these 3 are:

perch baked in foil
with butter, tomatoes, squash -
and caraway seeds!
Clearly, this is proof that Ron Silliman wants to cook Eliot Weinberger like a fish!

Later, Kent whines about some long forgotten essay in which Silliman, decades ago, called him a "cockroach". Because clearly, this is proof enough of his character to insinuate conspiracy to murder.

Kent Johnson is the Glenn Beck of poetry. Why this guy has any credibility in poetry criticism is one poetry's best kept secrets.

What world is Johnson living in where we're supposed to gasp that Silliman dared call him a cockroach (in some publication read by the tens no doubt), but ignore his own obsessive creepy devotion to "exposing" the dastardly conspiracies of software-engineer-by-day/poet-by-night Ron Silliman?

"i'm not saying Ron Silliman wants to throw Eliot Weinberger out a window, i'm just asking questions"