again with the quietude and perfidious albion

My quoting of Blake in response to Ron Silliman’s quoting of Whitman was of course spurious. The general trend of English poetry (and culture generally) is the important thing, not a few unusual individuals; and the English are certainly often suspicious of people who are intellectually, politically or religiously enthusiastic.

I think what bugs me about it, actually, is the whole business of tying poetry to nationhood. Silliman isn’t just describing trends; he’s taking one part of the poetry written in America and claiming it as the true American Poetry, and rejecting the rest of it as being American merely by unfortunate geographical coincidence. And the idea that Frost’s poetry is not American is just – well, silly.

And since the Avant/SoQ distinction is a very broadly applicable one (as it has to be, to cover 150 years of literature), why stop there? Just as Frost is, presumably, English, I guess André Breton must be American. I’m sure he’d have been thrilled to know it.

Silliman isn’t alone in this, of course – the folks on the other side of the fence do exactly the same thing. Both sides try and fight for some kind of notional ownership of American Poetry. I’m not, btw, making the familiar argument that Americans are parochial. I just think that fighting to establish the ideological purity of a nation’s art is an activity best left to dictators. By all means, let Ron Silliman and Ted Kooser knock seven shades of shit out each other in an attempt to decide who has the better recipe for poetry, but I can’t see why either of them need to wrap themselves in the flag to do it.