I don’t understand the blog in that I haven’t worked out where it fits in the scheme of things and what it might do that’s different from a web site or a Facebook entry (or whatever they might be called). I’m also completely mystified by tumblr but I suspect that it might be this week’s future. In the interests of trying to keep up, I did ask someone about tumblr this morning but he wouldn’t tell me.
Prior to starting this blog I didn’t know that I could write about poetry. I knew that I could write and has a reasonably long list of subjects that I could write about but my thinking on the poetic seemed too wound up with and complicated by my own attempts at poetry making for anything remotely useful to emerge.
I still don’t think I can write about poetry at anywhere near the level that I’d like to (somewhere between Alastair Fowler and Helen Cooper) but the miracle that has occurred is that I can write stuff that other people take an interest in and feel sufficiently involved to make a response. The other miracle is that these responses are without exception both intelligent and (this is important) well-mannered. Some of these are so well thought out and expressed that I need to think long and hard about a suitable / appropriate response.
The other thing is that I read very few blogs and the majority of these aren’t about poetry. I look at Mark Woods, Mrs Deane and Rio Wang every day, I look at Dylan Trigg and Language Hat every other day and a number of photography and design mags every week but the attention I pay to poetry blogs is sporadic. I once had the Jacket site open whenever I was on-line but these days that honour has passed to the Claudius App and TEAMS Middle English index pages because they manage to hold my interest and Jacket2 doesn’t.
So, this is a digressive way of saying that what follows is highly speculative and probably badly worked out. The first of these relates to the difference between my web site, arduity, and these pages. I was going to say that I put more of myself into this and try to be more objective with arduity but that isn’t really what’s going on. The main difference is that I’ve got a plan for arduity and I don’t for bebrowed. They’re both ‘about’ difficult or complex poetry and they’re both intended to be useful but arduity is written with more focus on encouraging confidence to tackle this stuff whereas bebrowed follows the wavering fancies that occupy my head.
I’m now going to try and get technical. If we think of all things poetic as a relatively autonomous ‘information order’ as described by Sir Christopher Bayly then, right now, a lot of things / processes / events are taking place. The first and most obvious of these is the effect of the one to many gizmo which means that a poem can be circulated / displayed, responded to and that response can be responded to within a very short space of time. The other process that is taking place is that of circulation prior to whatever publication might mean. I and others have drafts and have commented publicly on these drafts many months in advance of publication, I have also written with puppy dog enthusiasm about at least one poem that has been circulated but probably won’t ever be published. There are parallels here with poetic practice before and after the printing press, both Donne and Marvell only had manuscripts in circulation during their lives, all their work (with a couple of minor exceptions) was published after their death
The second is the exponential growth in self indulgence. The web is now cluttered with poetry that has never been subject to the editorial glare. Last year I posted something that consisted entirely of Gillian Welch set lists in chronological order as well as the versification of the labels used on maps of Sector 5 for the Saville Inquiry into Bloody Sunday. Neither of these would have ever been ‘published’ in the world of print and constitute an act of the worst kind of self-expression. The sad fact is that I don’t care, they’re on the blog primarily because I like them and feel they need to exist outside of my head. In mitigation I would say that I don’t do it very often and only when I feel that there is some kind of imperative.
Anyway, it now transpires that I have a readership and I try not to think about this because that might inhibit or modify what I want to say which is usually a blow-by-blow attempt to work out some kind of conclusion and / or structure. The blog also allows me to fly a number of intensely speculative kites safe in the knowledge that on or two readers will bring me back to ground- poetry as performance on the page being the most recent example.
I like to think that the well mannered responses are in part due to my decision to only write about poetry that I like and to try and pretend that the rest doesn’t exist. There are exceptions to this (Jarvis’ ‘Dinner’, Prynne’s ‘Sub Songs’) but they prove the rule. This isn’t formulated froma moral stance, it’s simply that I don’t find it very interesting demolishing poems even when they thoroughly deserve to be so treated. I have set myself this challenge of writing enthusiastically about material that I feel deserves to be better known and appreciated and I don’t have any problem at all with the fact that I am occasionally in a very small minority. I know from bitter personal experience of bulletin boards and blogs in another sphere that things can rapidly become needlessly conflictual and I’m very pleased that this hasn’t occurred here.
There’s also this feeling that something really important is happening to this particular information order but we only catch glimpses of what this might be, I keep trying to list the things that blogging has made me think about and discover, I try to examine my traffic stats as if these might give me more of a clue but most of the time this is just a collection of instinctive stabs in the dark unless I get prodded into elaborating on the technical prowess on display in ‘The Anathemata’ which means that I have an excuse to read it again…
A final point, this tries hard not to be either lit crit or the reviewing of books, what it does attempt is an honest statement of the fruits of readerly attention and I am very pleased that others find bits of it to be useful- in the sense that Richard Rorty intended.
Failing gently sounds good. Much better than failing hard, which is something californian teenagers do.
Which Californian teenagers? The white ones? The unpoor ones? Do they have names?
Whatever uncertainties you might have felt when embarking upon this blog, John, you’ve won a readership and the blog has, so to speak, created its own purpose in life. Please keep going if you have the time and strength to do so!
I like your analogy with the circulation of manuscripts prior to publication through the printing-press. Up to a point it’s a pleasing and instructive analogy, except that (as Jim Kleinhenz pointed out in commenting here once) the internet has widened the range of contacts astonishingly. Your blog, as others, benefits from a virtual community of readers and commentators who previously would never have met.
In a way you are right that the web has allowed a growth in self-indulgence – there’s great deal of highly self-indulgent stuff out there, but (for the most part) it’s harmless. And there’s an excitement to be found in the discovery of people with whom a real exchange of views can take place.
One final thought: keep writing about the poets you like. That’s not self-indulgent. I don’t really see the merit in book reviews and articles that demolish someone’s work; if it is irredeemable, why waste space on it? By contrast, critical comment on work that has the reviewer’s underlying sympathy is valuable, both to potential readers of the poem or book and to the writer who ought to welcome thoughtful feedback. So I feel your blog is on the right track.
Thanks John, I’ll rty and stay on the right track but self inulgence is a worry, Drayton once wrote of the ‘ah, mee’ dressings applied to sonnets in the 1590s and I do seem to be falling across an increasing number of ah, mee blogs and sites, the recent decline of the jacket enterprise being the most obvious example of a discourse that speaks pleasingly and exclusively to itself. That short rant aside, some self-indulgence is immensely rewarding and successful but I do think it can be taken too far, I think there are time when I’ve taken it too far.
The other point is that we do this and a thousand other things because the web makes it possible / feasible and that is a Very Good Thing.
One minor quibble, I think there’s a difference between blogging and reviewing in that most bloggers (me anyway) have less regard for the needs of their readers, that’s what I was trying to say about the arduity / bebrowed divide.