Sunday, October 07, 2007

The Poetry Blogroll

I updated (i.e., recreated) the Short Schrift blogroll of friends, fellow-admirers, mutual admirers, etc. A lot of the usual suspects are there, but I want to draw attention to a handful of poetry/literature blogs, all of which happen to be both really good AND written by people I know.

In the poetry world, especially in experimental poetry, it doesn't get better than Silliman's Blog, written by poet/critic Ron Silliman. Unlike the majority of his peers, Silliman doesn't have a regular gig at a university, which apparently means that he has more time and energy to read voluminous amounts of poetry old and new, and write what seem like spontaneous but fully-formed essays than any of us. Despite having an honest-to-goodness day job. Some people make it look easy.

It's almost as though Silliman's blog is so good, that other poets with similar skills don't really try to compete. Tom Devaney's blog reads kinda like a MySpace page -- more links, photos, and advertisements of events than full-fledged posts -- but he always points to interesting things, not least of which his are own poems, reviews, and readings. Ditto Charles Bernstein -- who also happens to be as consistently interesting and innovative poet and critic as any I know of.

One poetry critic that I know, though, gives pretty good chase. Al Filreis has not one but two very good poetry blogs. The first, "Al Filreis," covers roughly the same ground as Silliman's, but with a heavier focus on the events Filreis runs at Penn's Kelly Writers House, and indexing Filreis's own critical work (past and present). There's a really thoughtful post-let about the relationship between writing, sound, and poetry. And Filreis has a real feel for both the history of poetry and everyday poetic experiments.

More interesting, at least to me, is Filreis's work-in-progress blog, 1960. Filreis mines newspaper articles, occasional speeches, and museum catalogs, which gives him a sort of immanent look into the culture at the moment, while still having the distance of a contemporary perspective. I've always been interested in radically synchronic (and radically diachronic) approaches to cultural history, so mapping out the literature, art, culture, and politics of a single year, rather than a single author or book or work or movement, is already appealing.

Consider this entry, part of which is on the reception/persistence/historicization of Surrealism -- a movement already nearly fifty years old in 1960, but still with very notable and active practitioners.

Surrealism in the U.S. seems to have had three big moments in 1960: (1) Wallace Fowlie's essay (quoted at the outset of this entry), "Surrealism in 1960: A Backward Glance," published in Poetry in March issue; (2) the publication of Anna Balakian's important book, Surrealism: The road to the Absolute (Noonday--reviewed variously in April); and (3) a show at D'Arcy Galleries featuring 58 surrealist painters and sculptors put together by Marcel Duchamp and Maurice Bonnefoy (owner of the gallery) at the end of November. (I'm focused on American happenings here, so I won't count a fourth big surrealist moment that year. Back in January, in Paris, crowds flocked to the Eighth International Exposition of Surrealism. The theme that year was eroticism. Apparently, though, gallery-goers were not sufficiently shocked. "For the truth is," one critic wrote, "surrealism's erotic symbols and visual jokes [e.g. the fur-lined teacup at New York's Museum of Modern Art show in 1936] have ceased to shock or enrage the bourgeois."***)

Later entries here will surely return to the three above-mentioned American surrealist moments, but let me add a word here about the Duchamp show. When reviewers showed up at the gallery to find out about the show in advance of the opening, they found Duchamp waiting for the delivery of three live chickens, standing outside 1091 Madison Avenue. The fowl were to participate in the show. (They were set off in a corner near a sign that read "Coin Sale.") A pair of half-burned logs were set neatly on andirons against a wall in which they was no fireplace.

Already, I think, you get a sense of what works in this kind of historical excavation. But I think that by putting out the work in short entries, as a blog, it takes on a different character -- it's almost like reading a literature and culture blog from 1960, moving through snapshots of the year's moments, taking digressions into minor figures, taking stock of the distant (and not-too-distant) past from the more recent past. It's one of the most interesting academic blogs I've started reading in a long time, not least because it has a great deal to offer for the nonacademic (and even nonpoetry-savvy) audience.

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