Friday, January 12, 2007

In a webnote that he calls “Dark Clouds over Mordor,” Greg Rappleye has been wondering “how long Silliman will go without responding” to Reginald Shepherd’s repeated attempts to, as Greg characterizes it, call me out. But here in the Shire, the skies are blue. I think Shepherd’s doing exactly what he ought to be doing – he’s defining his poetics and defending them. That makes total sense to me. Do I agree with him? Probably not. But I don’t think he needs to write my poems any more than I think I need to write his. Each of us, I trust, will write the poetry we need.

Shepherd’s roster of the “experimental” poets he likes – Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, Kathleen Fraser, Ann Lauterbach, Michael Palmer, Bin Ramke, Donald Revell, Cole Swensen, and Rosmarie Waldrop – is a pretty good starter list of what I think of as “third way” or (to use Stephen Burt’s old phrase) “ellipticist” poets, writers trying to identify a path open as much to such mainstream poets as Jorie Graham or Jean Valentine as to the likes, say, of such post-avants as Erica Hunt or Harryette Mullen. I’d add Forrest Gander & C.D. Wright to Shepherd’s list as well.

But then I’ve never said that I disliked all School of Quietude (SoQ) poets either. I’ve gone out of my way at times to point to Wendell Berry, Daisy Fried, Bob Hass, John Logan & Jack Gilbert as writers who I think are worth reading under any circumstances. I’ve been known to say positive things about everyone from Elizabeth Bishop to George Starbuck to the soft surrealism of Charles Simic & James Tate. And I agree with anyone who thinks Hart Crane was one of the most interesting (and tragic) poets of the last century – a lot more interesting than the faux experimentalism of e.e. cummings. If they have a significant relationship to the forms they use, it doesn’t really matter where they get them. I think Wendell Berry would be exactly the same poet even if the SoQ never existed. Which is exactly how it should be.

It’s the SoQ’s historic presumption that American literature is a subset of British (or, since the vaults are pretty much empty over amongst the conservatives on the Island, Irish) literature that irks. Or its occasional annexations of the tradition it dare not name (from Blake to Whitman & Dickinson to the early Pound), which seems to be just the clumsiest sort of turf elbowing imaginable. Or its 160-year history of pretending that other traditions don’t exist in the United States, a pretense that one still finds in certain programs, anthologies and institutions.¹ Shepherd would appear to be one of the poets who has gotten over that, which is great.


¹ How many poets of the several post-New American tendencies have ever had a photograph on the cover of Poets & Writers in its 20-year history? Unless you’re counting C.D. Wright, Andrei Codrescu or an occasional identarian poet who receives dispensation to write freely, the answer is still zero. Which is how a publication with a circulation of 60,000 trivializes itself.