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Seth's Death To SoQ?

Seth Abramson has brilliantly, wittily, and I think pretty comprehensively, tackled the whole Ron Silliman-generated "School of Quietude" issue over at his blog of late.  For British readers not in the know, what is often called over here the mainstream-postmodern (by Paterson) or the mainstream-experimental (or avant-garde, or linguistically innovative or late modern) split - so, in shorthand, Auden vs. Pound, Seamus Heaney vs. JH Prynne, or Wendy Cope vs. Denise Riley - is often now termed by some in certain circles in the States as the School of Quietude vs. the post-avant - i.e. Frost vs. Hejinian.  Abramson's most important claim is that this term is about poems, not poets - and then claims almost all of O'Hara, for instance.  Secondly, he traces the rhetorical roots of this tussle to the Ancients (as does Derrida, of course).  His main point is that this is an argument between transcendence contra immanence of the Word.

Language is obviously of central concern to the "Language poets" and every other poet, hence the ongoing confusion.  He also observes the lazy conflation between sociological cohabitation, and actual aesthetic similarity, between poets of the same schools, clans and cabals, which muddy the waters - and further suggests a disinterested probity of poetic discourse, where poets stop writing about themselves, and let others do the work for them.  Here problems ensue: for some post-avant writers, writing about poetry, one's own or other, is also writing poetry, sometimes - critical and creative writing can and often are equally valid and constructed texts; also, there can be no disinterested critics, if ideology permeates the reception and indeed construction of discourse leading to analysis and evaluation of poems, poets and poetic canons.  All this is well-known.

I would prefer to say that the core debate is about the "fate of the lyric" subject, or voice.  The debate is actually about what "humans are" - not language at all.  For the post-avant-garde, lyrical disruption of the text corresponds with an interrogation of the very idea of a coherent identity or self, that can be depicted, even brought across, in language - and in fact constructs the establishing counter-argument that language is the primary building block upon which the structures of purported selves, experiences, beliefs, including of mind, and soul - are premised.  In short, for the post-avant, the Self is of limited importance, the Soul does not exist (in relation to a Real God), and Actual Experience cannot be recalled or Communicated for any Value - because the complacent, bourgeois idea of a Stable Community of Shared Values is ultimately False, or in Bad Faith - in short, who cares about the "lyric I" and what Billy Collins or Billy Wordsworth actually felt or thought?!

Instead, what is important is exploration of the process of linguistic invention, artifice, and materiality, always conditioned by economic, political, sexual, and other forces (though not the Freudian) - texts resisting closure, or completion - so that poems are never finished, reified objects to be appreciated, savoured, or loved, or indeed studied, as they are - but must, by definition, resist all critical and creative attempts to complete, define, or contain them - poetry is always ultimately postponed.  What neither side any more seems to relish - which is my Third Way (sometimes called Fusion or Hybrid) is also Trilling's: the sheer pleasure of performance, which can also be a good in itself (as in acrobatics, or dance, or music) - a virtuosity of style which neither privileges the materiality of language as an ultimate good, nor its ability to convey moral, faith-based or secular truths and appercus, either - in short, a modernist aesthetics, a la Early Eliot, at once alert to the verbal ironies at play in poetry, yet unfettered from Victorian and Edwardian and Georgian impulses to behave properly within the text.  In my canon, therefore, the first major poem in English is "Prufrock".


Mark Granier said…
I was wondering if anyone else noted this. No one commented on it on Silliman's blog (and Seth's doesn't seem to have a facility for comments). I was delighted that he made that point about O'Hara; something that had often occurred to me. I think Silliman's SoQ label is broadly meant as anti-American, 'American' in this instance representing language ideally freed from what Silliman perceives as the pernicious, stuffy English tradition. This let's-wipe-the-slate-clean fantasy reminds me of Pound's obsession with 'Usura'; there is something distinctly xenophobic about it, or at least anti-English/Irish (I remember Silliman at one point actually declaring that '"Yeats is interesting, tho problematic, operating out of a context that has little to do with U.S., frankly" (note that lack of a definite article). And yes, I think lyric poetry is supposed to be a 'neophobe' hangover from that tradition. As far as I recall, Silliman also recruited Dickinson to fight the good fight.

Silliman's last comment on his recent SoQ post was: 'If a term like School of Quietude isn’t to their liking, I’d suggest that they come up with one of their own.' Prior to reading that, I wouldn't have been surprised to learn that SoQ had by now become an acceptable, if rather specialised, term by that (possibly) significant minority who like their poetics tidily sorted and labeled. But there is a note of desperation in this spiel (especially that parting shot), which amounts to an unusually arrogant and disingenuous argument, even by Silliman's standards.
Steven Waling said…
I do have some symoathy with Ron Silliman's point, at least in the sense that labels do exist for other poetries than the mainstream (whatever that is): even the label "Women's poetry" assumes that poetry by women isn't "mainstream" or that it's somehow different because it's written by (or read by) a woman. Nobody talks of "men's poetry" or "white poetry" or "abled" poetry. Or for that matter, "non-experimental" poetry.

I would agree, though, that the whole thing is a diversion from the business of actually writing poems. I would probably characterise my own poetry as "The Lyric: Problemitised."

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