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Silliman’s Blog

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Poetry has never been, and will never be, a real cash cow.  There’s this great line in Tom Stoppard’s shockingly good 2006play, Rock and Roll, “Poetry sold well in Russia because everything else was banned.  If pornography had been available, poetry would have sold like poetry!” (I’m paraphrasing).  With rare notable exceptions, the history of the poet has singularly been about struggle: to find the time to write, to get published, to have money to eat.  It has simply always been an economic reality that poets will not make much (or any) money from their poetry because (and let’s just say this), people don’t want to read poetry.  And for those few people who do want to read poetry (or could potentially realize that they want to read poetry), the forums for the mode have historically been few and far between, and the 20th century saw a steady decline in the already small market for poems.

But, then came the internet.  Poetry’s place in the age of electronic reproduction is, unsurprisingly, not terribly different from its previous place: it is still the realm of a small, devoted core.  Except now any poet in his dimly lit college dormroom can turn on his computer and start up some Bright Eyes and Mozilla Firefox while his roommate is out having fun on a Friday night, and in under ten minutes, find fifty different poems he has never read before by poets he has never heard of.  And he can also instantly publish his own poems on his blog, which, presumably, contains links to other poetry blogs- which poetry blogs themselves contain links to further poetry blogs, et cetera.  And so at this moment there is a proliferation of free poetry and free online poetry publications that all exist in one big, circular community that reads and publishes its members.  In short: the market has not grown, but they have decided to kick up production.  They call this market saturation.

Enter Ron Silliman.  Silliman is an acclaimed poet, author of the retardedly long The Alphabet, and two other collections that I guess he’s been working on and will work on until he dies, at which point his life’s work will be published as a single poem, per his wishes.  Silliman curates easily the most popular English language poetry blog on the internet (it received its 2,000,000th visitor last week), Silliman’s Blog.  And its a very good blog.  Silliman is a deft, straight forward writer with a knack for clever analogy, the perfect combination for a critic- an individual who must constantly work to balance his twin roles of promoter and discussion starter.  But it can be difficult to strike this balance.

A little over half of Silliman’s posts are in depth critiques of poetry, usually framed by a particular motif (recent examples include incidents of poetry in President Obama’s inauguration and poetry that is “San Diego-like”).  His other posts are incredibly long lists of links, mostly to poetry but also to various interesting bits from the world of art and popular culture.  Both aspects of Silliman’s blog are well-intentioned and certainly don’t lack serious effort, but a positive project can become mired by its own mass.  The critical posts are some of the best and most readable poetry criticism I have ever seen, on the internet or anywhere else.  The “list posts” look and feel like the worst formatted aggregate in the world.  I can’t imagine anyone having the time to peek at every single link, let alone spend the proper time required to ingest every poem contained within.  It’s just too heavy to wield.

Indeed, mass seems to be a problem with Silliman’s blog.  Shortly down the lefthand sidebar of his blog begins a list of blog links so massive that it is not only listed alphabetically, but each letter in the alphabet gets its own header, so you don’t get disoriented.  Ultimately, the problem with Silliman’s blog is the problem with poetry on the internet: it is a dense, labyrinthine world that from the outside seems impenetrable to all but the most passionately devoted.  Then again, I guess that’s how poetry has always been.

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Written by Peter Kelly

February 10, 2009 at 5:26 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with , , ,

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