Brief follow-up to Ron Silliman in London, 5th May 2009


I was at both of the Ron Silliman events put on by Birkbeck yesterday in London, and wanted to jot down a few thoughts in response while I can remember them…

The first event was an afternoon session, aimed at postgraduates and relevant ‘interested parties’ so to speak, and was an informal talk by Ron about blogging and his writing in relation to blogging. As most people who know Ron Silliman are aware, his blog, running since 2002, is now one of, if not THE most successful (if you’re judging that by hits) poetry blogs on the planet. However, Silliman himself raised a good point in this regard, stating the aim of a blog (and by implication the measure of its success) in a poetic(s) sense is that it generates discussion and promotes others to produce discussion-generating spheres of conversation also. This, he said, is why his 1000-strong blogroll consists of blogs which are not merely poets posting their poems but poets engaging in discussions and furthering them through dialogues for which the blog is a pivotal medium.

I was reassured by this attitude, and though I must admit at the time of the talk feeling apprehensive about waht I considered the duality of Silliman’s argument (the above was nonetheless framed in terms of the possibilities of self-promotion) he was not advocating ‘vanity publishing’. On reflection, he acknowledged that poets, by and large, would like to put work out, and that if they actively resisted the blogging medium or a web presence in general they were committing professional suicide. This is not mutually exclusive to the sense of community which can potentially be built through the collaborative writings of online discussion, nor must it exclude or wipe out physical community. What blogging does enable is a more instantly and further reaching rigorous testing of community standards.

I say that because this resonated with me, reminding me of Lyn Hejinian’s writing about community in The Language of Inquiry. Although writing about location-specific community, Hejinian outlines the pitfalls of community building (of which clique-forming might be one) as well as the not-so-obvious necessities, such as self-critique within the community – a persistent questioning of one’s motives – which fends off stasis. There was a discussion relating to quality control in the talk – murky waters no matter what size the lake is. Obvious matters aside (such as the potential for more ‘poor quality’ information to be produced due to more empowerment to more people to write and publish – and whether this is true or not – that’s another discussion) what interests me here is the fact that writing in terms of and about one’s interests, with the aim of stimulating discussion and debate, invites critique and the blogging medium opens up the invitation for such critique to a vast and immediate audience. If we’re empowered to write, we’re empowered to respond.

In the Q&A session following on from Silliman’s enjoyable reading, there were echoes of this discussion, but particularly valuable in relation to the above was Silliman’s assertion that what young writers ought to be doing, if they are interested in writing from a LANGUAGE poetry perspective, is essentially subverting him, writing in this moment rather than that moment. I would certainly agree that language around us is changing – we are of course, in some ways, using it the same way they were in the 70s and 80s, but we’re also using it through multimedia devices and other social tools which are shaping and shaped by us continually. The political situations we find ourselves in, the way we process them and the way we respond to them, are all language and are all mediated, and the mediation has changed and will continue to do so.

Anyway, it’s late. Time to sign off.

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