Silliman's take on Millennium 2

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In his May 27 blog entry, responding to a question by Jonathan Mayhew, Ron has this comment on the intentions Jerry Rothenberg & I supposedly had when putting together volume 2 of ¨Poets for the Millennium:

… The howls that went up at the publication of Poems for the Millennium, Vol. 2, really had to do with the fact that the volume was implicitly arguing for a reading of poetic history in which Fluxus was the central literary event of the 1950s & ‘60s, not the New American Poetry. You can see where that argument could be made – tho it’s awfully easy to disprove – but it’s not an argument that Rothenberg in particular had created the grounds for previously, even in a publication like Alcheringa. So instead of being taken as a bold attempt at a redefinition of the literary map, people perceived Millennium 2 instead as a failed attempt to counter the School of Quietude anthologies.

I don’t know about those ¨howls¨– didn’t hear many — in fact the only one I heard loudly was one that Silliman let out, concerning the presumed absence of his own favorite. Travelling in Europe right now I don’t have a copy of the anthology with me, but it seems to me tough to argue that we placed Fluxus above the New Americans, when the poem that opens the book is by Charles Olson, & one of three postludes is by Robert Duncan, with both of these New Americans — & a number of other ones — represented by solid selections inside the book. In fact, I could argue that Jerry himself can be counted among the NAs as he was included in the updated Allen anthology.

Seems to me Silliman is missing the forest for his American tree: the book is a world-wide anthology, not a polemic concerning US movements, & in that global context the presence of a number of Fluxus poets or Fluxus-inspired ones is a far more accurate representation of what was happening in the second part of the 20C. In fact the only fear I — &, I believe, Jerry too — had concerned a possible overpresentation of US poets, New American or others.It was therefore obviously impossible — & would have gone against the explicit aim of the book — to include all or even most of the US poets of a given movement (NA or San Francisco Renaissance or whatever, when we couldn’t do the same for movements from elsewhere (say, the Tammuzi poets, or the wider concrete movement, or the Maghrebian postcolonial movements, or the British Renaissance, etcetera). To have done so would have been blatantly US-imperialistic — something I fear Silliman with his narrow focus on US poetry all too easily falls prey to.

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This just in from Jerome Rothenberg — who has the book next to him & can be more accurate regarding names than I — as response to the Silliman statement:

In the Pre-Face to the second volume of Poems for the Millennium we cited Fluxus as the closest to an international movement during the early postmodern epoch. In doing so we were also cognizant of the connection of Fluxus to other movments & tendencies – systematic chance, concrete poetry, sound & textsound, intermedia, oulipo – & to its bringing together of poetry with a range of other arts, reminiscent in that sense of earlier movements like Dada, Surrelaism, & Russian & Italian Futurism.

Such a crossing of both national & genre boundaries was largely absent from the New American Poetry, which otherwise remained our principal source among the movements, the configuration of poets & poetics, that most clearly defined our own time & place. (Poems for the Millennium is otherwise loaded & overloaded with the New American Poetry & what came after – Silliman selbst included. And I am in fact one of the add-ons to the revised New American Poetry, if that’s the point in question, & Silliman in fact isn’t. So I talk in that sense from the inside.)

Still, if we were to cite the poets from that time who linked easily with Fluxus & less so with the New American poetry (but none of these linkages are really exclusive), that roster would include core figures such as Cage, Mac Low, Higgins, Filliou, & (Emmett) Williams, & associated figures such as Jandl, Heidsieck, De Campos & De Campos, Dotremont, & Finlay. Some of these, along with many others whom I haven’t cited, straddled both movements & were closer to later developments like language poetry, although not initially recognized as such. The disitnction in fact is bogus.

This seemed clear to most readers but not to Silliman who began to howl from the start & after a very sloppy reading of Millennium – so bad that he accused me, in a private note, of daring to include Eleanor Antin, whose art & writing I do in fact greatly admire, but whose name isn’t even mentioned in the book.

But it’s precisely Silliman’s insularity that we took as the down side of postwar American poetry & that we set out to deconstruct (if I may use that badly used word). Because we live in a bigger world & our contemporaries & compadres are not only Ginsberg or Duncan or Mac Low or Antin or Bernstein, but Jabès & Celan & Roubaud & Yoshimasu & Bei Dao & Adonis, & the poets & artists of Fluxus somewhere among them. I would also point out that the Language Poets, omitted from the Allen-Butterick New American Poetry, figure largely in our own assemblage and reconfiguration, whatever other poets in the world they do or don’t relate to.

So I would say shame to Silliman & his boring American chauvinism – the proponent of yet another American hegemony, when the last thing we need today is another American hegemony.

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2 opinions on “Silliman's take on Millennium 2”

  1. It’s funny, I was just thinking that I wanted to leave a one-word comment, or maybe a two-word comment, which was, of course,

    Bravo!

    or

    Bravo! Bravo!

    Only to find that the previous commenter had said just that.

    Well,

    BRAVO!

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