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Ron Silliman and the Cult of Personality

I was fascinated by the responses on Ron Silliman's blog to the poetry test.

The attempt to focus on the work of a writer is sometimes an attempt to increase the credability of the writer in question. Thereby increasing artistic capital.

Does Ann Carson's short short bio increase her artistic capital? Does the mystery surrounding the identity of Thomas Pynchon increase his artistic capital?

Granted that's only two examples. But maybe it will become the new trend.

Capitalism can suck, anything, big time.

It was really interesting to see how similar the poems sounded. My first response was to try and see all the poems as a sequence by one poet. I thought it was Ron Silliman at first, moving in a new direction.

Often, when I read lit. journals, I go straight to the poems written by females. Then, slowly, I go back and read the males. Why?

I would like to score a few points and say some of the great innovators are female. But it might be equally true that I find smart sexy.

So what about signature, voice, the stamp of originality.

First of all, the idea of voice (patriarchal etc.) is suspect. So let's change it to stamp.

Is the stamp the small, tiny self that remains stable while all the other selves shift? If every self shifts, then forget the stamp. The stamp is a delusion.

But we can recognize the "masters." They find themselves and work it. Except perhaps Jorie Graham; she keeps reinventing herself like Madonna. And yet, I think I can recognize a Jorie Graham poem just like I can recognize a Madonna song.

But that's not fair.

Madonna= clothes, fashion, sex appeal, ahead or right in line with the period, a recognizable voice

Jorie Graham= sex appeal with extreme intelligence writing for/in the future.

When I read Jorie Graham, I imagine her in my mind.

I am not sick, perverted etc.

So the pleasure of following and recognizing the names of hip new poets and hip old mothers and fathers of the avant guarde doesn't mean we are all shallow celebrity worshippers etc. Does it?

I want to be a smart fellow who knows his popular culture and can integrate it into sanctioned modes of discourse.

Is worshipping Julia Roberts and following all her movies no different (in motivation, not in quality) than worshipping and following all the poems of James Tate?

The cult of personality never seems to go away.

Which reminds me. I read Swarm by Jorie Graham a few years ago for a graduate poetry class. A lot of the students rarely read contemporary poetry and most enjoyed Jorie Graham.

That was after they read the dust jacket and saw her picture.





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Maurice Scully, The Basic Colours. Durham, UK: Pig Press, 1994.
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