Ron Silliman’s latest post, a praise-song to Geoffrey Young’s The Riot Act, begins—as do so many of Silliman’s posts—with a sneer.
“In one sense, Geoffrey Young is the poet Billy Collins & Ted Kooser both would like to be, writing self-contained works that are narrative marvels and accessible to just about any reader of English.” This fatuous statement is followed by this lucid introduction to one of Young’s poems. “Dig:”, he instructs us from under his cocked beret, the epitome of avant-schmavant cool.
Now, I don’t want to sneer at Geoffrey Young. The poems of his that Silliman quotes—especially the one entitled “Down the Garden Pathology”—are nervy, prickly and appealing á là Linh Dinh, and I look forward to reading his book. But the idea that Billy Collins and Ted Kooser (yoked here … uh, why? Perhaps because both have been U.S. Poet Laureates? Or because they have an audience beyond their own family and the indentured admiration of their students?) would care to write like Young is condescending at best.
I’m no fan of Collins’s work, but over the years Ted Kooser has written poems that are powerful in an understated way, authentic, resonant, accessible, and useful. (By useful, I mean, for example, the way Kooser’s oncologist framed and displayed his poem “At the Cancer Ward” on a wall near the nurse’s station, presumably because it provides insights into the lives of their patients.) Now, Silliman would like his readers to think that Kooser was born in a cracker barrel and that his concern for making poems that ordinary readers can understand and enjoy is some kind of betrayal. For this betrayal, Silliman has consigned Kooser to his infamous “School of Quietude.”
What surprises me about Silliman’s latest post is his admission that Geoffrey Young’s poems are “accessible,” a quality Silliman typically brands as Quietudinal on his way toward dismissing the work of whatever poet has committed this particular atrocity. Is Ron going soft? Is he influenced by his personal history as a poet whose work was published by Young’s press, The Figures? (In my own case, I can’t pretend to ignore the affection I feel for Kooser, who published some of my earliest poems in his New Salt Creek Reader.) Or can it be that accessibility has ceased to be a negative value for Silliman? Can it be that linguistic opacity, the shunning of content, and the almost puritanical efforts to suppress the self are no longer artistic prerequisites for this hoary “langpo”?
News at 11:00….