Sunday, March 8, 2009

Being in a critical mood (re previous post), I thoroughly enjoyed Ron Silliman's demolition of Andrew Motion. Does anyone actually read Andrew Motion's poetry? I'm prepared to admit that there are plenty of good poets in what might be called 'the mainstream', but Motion isn't one of them. He seems a classic example of what a shrewdly-managed career and the right contacts can do.

That said, Silliman's knowledge of current British poetry sometimes seems sketchy, at least compared to his encyclodaedic grasp of the American scene.


John B-R said...

It's remarkable to me how separate various anglophone poetries are; there's Canadian, Australian, US American, English, Scots, Irish, New Zealand, etc, each with its own trajectories, and each somewhat independent of the others (not that each is *entirely* unaware of the others). I use the word remarkable intentionally. All I have are remarks, conjectures. Here's one. Poetry-worlds are still somewhat small and personal. In other words, who one actually knows influences who one actually reads, where one publishes, etc. I wonder of how many present-day art-worlds it can even be suggested that they are still small and personal. I suspect the visual arts may still be another, because there are art schools, networks of galleries, etc. This *is* just a conjecture, but ... what do you think?

Anonymous said...

I totally agree as to the sketchiness of my knowledge of UK poetry, alas.

Alan Baker said...

I think you're right John, that the 'small and personal' is important in the poetry world, or maybe any world (perhaps because we evolved in hunter-gatherer groups of a couple of hundred people). Maybe the 'small and personal' is an antidote to globalisation. Anyway, Ron has pointed out the vast numbers of poets currently writing - who could hope to be au fait with all of it (you do a pretty good job with the North American scene Ron - keeping up with the other englishes too would be a tall order).

Ernesto said...

It's interesting too that such a demolishing critique had to come from the US and not from the UK itself.

I still think Ron was unnecessarily harsh to the book, the poems, Motion and the UK.

Something interesting happened during the Stephen Spender reading at the Royal Institution last 26 February. The readers were Grey Gowrie, Tony Harrison, Seamus Heaney, Barry Humphries Andrew Motion and Natasha Spender. (The least passionate, most monotonal reader was, alas, Motion).

All the poems that were read were of course by Spender, except Humphries's "Spender at Melbourne", which he himself read. When he introduced his own poem he apologised, looking back to Seamus Heaney who was sitting behind him, saying something to the effect that hopefully reading his poem could make him win the Nobel prize. "Stranger things have happened, as Andrew here can attest,", Humphries said looking back to Motion, causing general hilarity. Andrew Motion's face was so red he looked like he could have died on the spot...

On the other hand, while I can see how or why different anglophone poetries would retreat in the "small and personal" as a reaction to globalization in its negative connotation, I think that in this day and age it's a matter of personal interest and will to try to be informed about poetries that are not published on your same block.

John B-R said...


There was a series of posts at Harriet re: trying to see what's happening across the street and in another neighborhood; they concerned translation and took the position of that Nobel dude who called USA Lit too provincial for the his prize. I got chewed out roaylly for asserting just what you've asserted. Nevertheless, I'll assert it again. You write: "I think that in this day and age it's a matter of personal interest and will to try to be informed about poetries that are not published on your same block." I'll add to that that not doing so would be much like saying the only beautiful women live in my neighborhood. Art is erotic and Tom Beckett and jean Vengua keep reminding us, and, hell, there's eros oozing out of every culture on the planet. I may be turning into an old man, but I'm still gonna get me some!

Alan Baker said...

I wouldn't argue with "personal interest and will to try to be informed about poetries that are not published on your same block". Not at all. Cross-fertilization (to continue your metaphor John) is essential, and parochialism is the death of art (how's that for grandiose phrasing). At the same time, we all have the need to form communities and to mythologize the characters in them. When I went to the Shearsman reading the other night, I felt I was in the company of The Immortals. Daft, I know, but perhaps it's a way of valuing people and their work as opposed to seeing them as commodities.

I love the Barry Humphries story.

Ernesto said...

In 1930, FR Leavis wrote:

"the modern is exposed to a concourse of signals so bewildering in their variety and number that... he can hardly begin to discriminate... the distinctions and dividing lines have blurred away, the boundaries are gone, and the arts and literatures of different countries and periods have flowed together." (Mass Civilisation, 18-19).

In response to this, William Ray writes:

"It is no longer feasible to think of one's identity as anchored in a single community, when one's work, social relations, eating habits, and leisure pursuits intersect multiple regions, social classes, languages, national interests, and religious affiliations. In such a context reflecting how such formations are created and why we might want to -or have to- incorporate them into our identity is not a luxury but an indispensable component of survival." (The Logic of Culture, 192).

But there are still some individuals, even poets, who think it is enough to know just one language, to listen to just one type of music, to content with only one literary genre. Hell, the monolingual curtisfavilles of the world keep saying, in blogland, that there's no real reason to learn other language than English since English is "the best literary medium there is"...

Ernesto said...

And I suppose that in poetry as everywhere else the slogan "think globally, act locally" makes sense too.

We all write from one specific time and place (unless we are Alan Moore's Dr Manhattan), but that does not stop us from learning and becoming aware of what's going on in the rest of the world as much as we possibly can.

It is not only a luxury but a responsibility.

Thanks for the dialogue, mates. It's highly appreciated.

Alan Baker said...

"There is no use, or almost none, in my publisher's asking me to make English literature as prominent as possible. I mean, not if I am to play fair with the student. You cannot learn to write by reading English."

Ezra Pound

Alan Baker said...

"think globally, act locally"

Yes, that old slogan's still as valid as ever. More so, in fact.

And you're very welcome Ernesto. Thank YOU.

One of our current Leafe publishing projects involves editors in England and California, translators in Denver, and a Morrocan poet living in Paris. That's our block.

As for "English is "the best literary medium there is" - which English? I heard Alexander Hutchison read last week, and the poems he read in Scots were... well, would be almost certainly incomprehensible to Mr. Faville. Yet Scots is an 'english' along with the others in John's list.

Aidan Semmens said...

I too thoroughly enjoyed Ron's smart demolition of Motion's drivel. To draw any inference from Motion about the wider world of English poetry, though, is like basing your deductions about the whole of US politics on a cute deconstruction of Sarah Palin.

Ed Baker said...

Stephen Spender reading? jeeze he must be now 132 years old or more!

not that "we" are so much "global"
but, rather
we are no less than our
memories of our experiences..

Pound is/was right a cpl of times..

and that quote was the other one.

I was tickled to (just) find out than Shawnuss Heaney is about my age...

..The Age of HUH?

never heard or read Motion or the others mentioned


I "learned" everything I know about writing (in MY
vernacular langwidge)

from Fats Domino and Steve Vinsent Benet!

enjoyable exchange here... y'all (including Curtis) are
v e r y smart.

now to see haoe the Obama Crew gets Jim Cramer fired! not much room for discussion or disagreement or intelligence here in the States' Politico-Economic nonsense.

Alan Baker said...

Hi Aidan

Although Silliman didn't exactly say that the British are "incapable of serious thought", his tone smacked of patronising the UK as that little parochial place over there. Maybe he's right, but if the only evidence you have is Andrew Motion, then you're not looking far.


Don't worry, you're not missing much. I'd stick with Fats Domino et al. I look forward to reaching the age of HUH?

Ed Baker said...

Al "Babie"

I wasn't worried.. just a bit 'miffed'

so much seriousness and fear (angst) driving contemptueary Poetry

you know

one of the GREAT all time Brit none..

John Berryman

and he leapt oft a bridge...

yeah I know...

but Dream Songs owes an huge bow towards Shakespeare and Yeats... and that other "Boston Brit".. Bobbie Lowell..


back to this sci-fly flick... The Tomato that Ate Mars starring Dianna Doors

Ernesto said...

By the "Stephen Spender reading" I used "reading" as a noun, not as a verb. In my sentence "Stephen Spender" was an adjectival phrase functioning as a modifier of that noun.

Stephen Spender did read one poem, though, from beyond, in an audio recording.

Ed Baker said...

I was aware of the intent and the various meanings
and how Dead Poets (just) become either adjectives, nouns, or non-transitive verbs
even some of them... elevated to god-status..

I was trying to make a point via a bit of tongue 'n cheek...

but I got lost in looking for my
SS's Selected Poems or was/is it Collected Poems..
the one put out in about June 12, 1965 or



I really do (try to) pay attention..

ease up on adjectives and
abstractions and
above all else

understand what is happening.

cheers, K.