30 oct. 2008

(157)

*Silliman. Tjanting. 1981. 2002. 204 pp.

"Entjanting."

Just because Dana Gioia is wrong about poetry does not [necessarily] mean Ron Silliman is right, as Joseph Duemer points out. That's true... I guess. But just because Gioia and Silliman might be wrong does not mean Duemer or Mayhew are right either, and et cetera.

The Silliman of this book is not wrong about poetry. It is hard to show the excellence of the book in excerpts, because the effects come from the accumulation and repetition of material. Still, I think there are some self-evidently brilliant passages like this on pages 36-37. I begin to quote at an arbitrary point:

In the era of micro-waves lipstick got redder. First milk bottles disappeared, then Tootsie Rolls. Drawstring pants were then in fashion. Freak storms caused airplanes to meet unexpected mountains. What you learn about others as they do their wash. I found myself missing the delta. The asphalt came right up to the linoleum. People wore their hair as if they had just been swimming. All the conversations seemd to be in the middle by the time you arrived. Punctuation limits the conflict of words. All lawns had begun to grow imperceptibly quicker. Dogs were more easily provoked. Even newspaper headlines began to look like hieroglyphics. It was more difficult to climb the steps of the house each day. The rhythm of consonants had begun to sound like primitive drums. The whimper of vowels was intolerable. The neighbors salsa was constant. You took to the streets..

The string of seemingly disconnected paratactic sentences is linked by a thematic thread: mutation and/or decline. Each observation is sharp in and of itself, and related to one of the poet's central themes: the vicissitudes of the lived environment, the poetic subject, the writing subject, in relation to social realities and the natural environment, and the aesthetics of everyday life. Fashions change, correlating with other mutations in the social fabric. Certain elements, "rhyme," like the asphalt and the linoleum: surfaces of exterior and interior spaces respectively, or "Hard edged as the hedges of a ruling class garden" earlier on the page. Where the sharpness of the topiary seems to reflect the harshness of the inhabitants of the house.

Some may not like this particular kind of writing. That's fine. What irritates me is the gesture of calling it "out of bounds." It is not something that can be dismissed as, well, not really poetry, beyond the scope of what someone ought to be expected to read. I have the same attitude toward flarf or just about anything. Don't draw some arbitrary circle around poetry just to exclude some slightly different manifestation of the art form. Don't be stupid.

8 comentarios:

Ron dijo...

Thanks for the kind words,

Ron

Joseph Duemer dijo...

Jonathan, you misquoted me. There was an essential "necessarily" in my comment. For the record, I think Silliman is much more right about poetry than Gioia. That "necessarily" was meant to imply, by the way, that I wasn't drawing circles of exclusion. Perhaps too much work for one poor little word to do.

Jonathan dijo...

I was paraphrasing not quoting, but I will put that necessarily in right now.

Jordan dijo...

Parataxis-without-end is crazy-making, then relaxing, then crazy-making again.

Happy Halloween!

Joseph Duemer dijo...

Thanks, but my point was that -- quoting or paraphrasing -- the "necessarily" was an essential part of what I was saying. Your paraphrase oversimplified for rhetorical effect.

Henry Gould dijo...

Silliman is a good writer. His sentences, and their juxtapositions, have a certain bite and humor.

We all have different definitions of poetry. In my book, what Ron is doing here is prose, not poetry.

I am somewhat opposed to the "big tent", inclusive notion of what defines poetry. In my book, poetry is, in a certain sense, NOT writing.

Poetry is writing's flight from itself. Poetry is a poet's attempt to sing or play-act rhythmically, to dramatize eloquently, using recalcitrant, minimalist materials (words).

Some might say this last paragraph is actually a characterization of what Ron is doing. I disagree. Poetry is a kind of flight from prose. Poetry is against prose.

Jonathan dijo...

Silliman's prose is closer to poetry than to the kind of "prose" that might usefully be opposed to "poetry." The prose poem is more than 100 years old as a genre in European languages. I don't see poetry as a genre, but as a mode of discourse that can take multiple forms: oral, written, versified, etc...

Henry Gould dijo...

As I say, we all have different definitions. I suppose it behooves us, for the sake of intellectual clarity, to try to authorize some authorized notion of what poetry is... & maybe I'm just being contrarian, as usual...

- but in my view, a prose poem is more accurately defined as "poetic prose". And poetry is quite distinct from prose of all kinds. What is the substance of this basic distinction? It's that (1) poetry is measured, and (2) in poetry, this measure is emphasized - accented - ie., "measurable". (By this I distinguish it from rhythmic prose, even though such prose may be highly ornate in terms of rhythm.)