Thursday, June 21, 2007

Poems for the Millennium

Apparently Ron Silliman thinks there are not enough New American Poets in Pierre Joris's and Jerome Rothenberg's anthology "Poems for the Millennium." I'm always perplexed when people make such demands of anthologies - the idea that there is an objective literary history that can (or should) be represented.

Perhaps it's true that one can make such demands when the editors chooses a very narrow, historical group (such as Silliman's In the American Tree), but even then there are questions of why some poems/poets were chosen and not others.

Things become incredibly more complicated when an anthology - like Millennium - aims to invoke an international context. Does one view these from a German perspective? A Japanese perspective? What Japanese perspective? Etc.

Clearly Jerry and Pierre made an anthology that aimed to place American poetry of a certain aesthetic in an international context. *An* international context - they clearly are looking for a certain aesthetic, one that favors for example sounds poetry and concrete poetry as well as *New American Poetry* - thus they favor Schwitters and Hugo Ball's sounds poems over Huelsenbeck's fantastic prayers or Ball's Tenderenda, why they give a lot of space to the German Expressionist painters but not much (or anything) to a number of prominent poets (for example the whole unbearable messianic branch of this movement). As with Fluxus, it is not only formal in its consideration but also social - Fluxus was highly international in its connection between various countries and continents.

It is still largely an American anthology - way more American poets than poets from other countries. For Silliman to want more only reveals his lack of engagement with poetry from other countries (as I've said before, such an egagement would break down his simple, narrow little categorizings). Such provincialism is extremely troubling considering the fact that Silliman is an English-language, US poet.

I have certain quibbles with the Millennium anthologies - the very centric focus for example (Where are the Yugoslavian dadaists? Where's Björling?!! Asia and Africa are certainly not well represented etc) - but all in all I think it was a fantastic accomplishment and I think it has had an enormous inflluence on contemporary American poetry.

By just publishing Anatol Stern's "Europe" (basically out of print) alone they made a key contribution to American poetry. I've run into people all over the place who've read Edith Södergran for example because they first read her stuff in the anthology. I give a large amount of credit to these anthologies to the resurgence of interest in international poetry, poetry in translation and various neglected avant-garde traditions. I can really see this effect in any number of poets my age.

I think the second part is particularly interesting, in large part because it seems less canonical (it even has some pieces by Alejandra Pizarnik) - even if there is no Fahlstrom in the Concrete section (a big omission since he's generally credited with the first call for concrete poetry - 1953). But a lot of great stuff that isn't available elsewhere.

As for anthologies, I welcome critique, but not critique that refer solely to some kind of hallucinatory objective literary history. And also, Silliman should stay away from making strange psychological arguments (Jerry wanted to get back at New American Poets!).

I said the same thing about Legitimate Dangers. That anthology is terrible as a representation of all of American poetry, but it's fine representing a certain strain of Bishop-influenced poetry. In fact it makes an interesting argument by including Joyelle and Lisa Jarnot, who a lot of critics claimed were out of place - well, the editors made an argument that they belonged with the rest of the poets.

Joris and Rothenberg makes an interesting argument in placing some strains of American poetry in an international context. We can argue about what they leave our or take in, but not by appealing to Literary History (and certainly not some American-centric imperial literary history) or by taking pot-shots at Rothenberg.


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