What’s Up With Silliman’s Blog?

First, let me make this clear. I read Ron Silliman’s blog almost daily. I very much appreciate the attention he gives to it, the exposure he gives to poets he admires and the issues he raises–not to mention to controversies he sometimes contributes to. His poetry blog is probably one of the most popular in today’s scene. He’s especially an enthusiastic proponent of LANGUAGE poets and other experimental ilk.

Also, I often disagree with him. In particular I disagree with what I feel is his unnecessary, polarizing and self-serving attacks on the mythological group of poets he calls the School of Quietude. But he’s welcome to his opinions, and he argues his opinions fairly and with a deserved sense of authority. However, the comments section of his blog can be considerably less equitable.

Jessica Smith, over at looktouchblog, was so disturbed by the warring going on at Silliman’s that, she says, it turned her off poetry completely. Overreaction? Thin-skinned? I think not. The Internet tends to reject any sort of policing, and anonymous sometimes bring out the ugly in people. “Comment boxes are more often frequented by men, and they’re usually angry, aggressive men looking for an argument,” she writes. The experience of having her book reviewed by Silliman, and than attacked by readers in the comment section so impacted her that she considers turning away from poetry.  She writes “If you succeed at all, even in one person’s eyes, you’ve unwittingly set yourself up as an object of cruelty. It’s like the cyber-bullying one reads about high schoolers enacting upon each other, but in the case of poetry and Silliman’s blog specifically, the bullies are grown people who, through some lack of ability to empathize, will lash out at anyone who receives attention they think they themselves should be getting.”

I didn’t read the comments on her review (they’ve since been removed), and can’t really imagine how a poetry book review could possibly prompt the kind of bullying she describes, but her experience has had an effect.

Silliman responds on his own blog: “Recognizing this leaves me with few options. I could shut up, although I actually don’t think that’s the goal of most of the comment harpies…” He concludes that his best option to stop whatever seems to be going on over there is to turn off the blog comments. That’s it folks. Take your anger somewhere else.

So I wonder, is this a loss for the rest of us? I think so, but I recognize his right, and his need, to do so. I rarely checked out the comments, and when I did I’d scan past the wackos to get to the more intelligently argued comments. I’m reminded of the anonymous comment section of my local town paper where petty people will rant about minor injustices or complain about the condition of their neighbor’s lawn without fear of honestly confronting anyone. The Web editor of that newspaper, a friend of mine, has argued that cutting them off, or taking away the anonymity, would also cut out much of the legitimately reasoned posts along with the wackos. Also, the wackos are good for traffic.

I get both sides, but what amazes me more is that poetry contains such aggressively-vocal wackos. I understand wackos on the sports blogs or the political blogs, but poetry? Really? Why?

2 thoughts on “What’s Up With Silliman’s Blog?

  1. It’s a sad thing that Silliman felt he had to shut down his comments section, but I understand his weariness with having to act as the lunch room monitor . The image persists, I suppose, that poets are as a class more sensitive, intelligent, intuitive and respectful of the feelings of others , and that as a class wouldn’t be caught dead being intrusive, abusive creeps, but my experience on line shows otherwise; a good many , that is to say, too many poets who are drawn to comments blog with a large readership seem uniformly convinced that they, as individuals, are unrecognized geniuses who have convinced themselves that the anger they constantly brew is a righteous call to speak a blunt truth to those whom they’ve judged as frauds, posers, fakes, or merely mediocre. It’s self righteousness, of course, and the exchanges one might have with the practitioners of unprovoked invective is an extreme test of one’s patience. The desire on the sort Silliman is tired of dealing with isn’t to exchange views , but only to attack and achieve some perverted pride in proving that their intellect and energy are dedicated to little more than maintaining a unceasing stream of hurtful things to say to people they don’t know. There are times when the poetry forums I’ve participated more closely resembled the political free for alls that are in abundance on the internet. It’s a full time job to maintain order and civility on forum with a dedicated topic, and I suspect that Ron Silliman has more interesting things to do with his time than keep watch over the willfully immature. Poets and poetry readers are not immune to being jerks.

  2. Will to power was always there in the comments box, but so was the wish to remove the comments box (Jessica Smith said that unless all of poetry readers approved of her work she just couldn’t go on!), and thus the silencing of all poetry readers who didn’t approve of her!

    I didn’t care one way or the other about her, honestly.

    I think it’s wonderful that he capped the comments box, and killed eight years of discussion at one stroke.

    There were some gems in there, but it was mostly a conversation carried on for fun, with the will to power as a constant menace just behind that.

    Even in poetry, or perhaps especially in poetry, will to power is always very much the greatest motivation.

    I think the thing that’s funniest is that now no one will read Ron’s blog any more. He thinks it was all about him, but it was actually about his comments box.

    It was the only chance any of us ever had to talk back to the LANGUAGE police. It was like Glasnost.

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