BILLY COLLINS KISSES BILL KNOTT ON THE CHEEK ALONG WITH THOMAS BRADY

In the glory days of Harriet, back in the summer of 2009, the following exchange took place between one of our Scarriet editors, Thomas Brady, and the poet, Bill Knott.

“It’s not because the public is too ‘stupid’ to ‘get’ difficult poetry; the poets, and their friendly critics, are stupid in their refusal to stop cultivating ‘long attention span’ poetry.”  — Thomas Brady

.

“Even among the damned there are divisions…there are even (and it’s almost unbelievable that they can exist) some poets who want to succeed!  Who want their poetry to be read! Who actually try to write poetry that is accessible and can reach an audience!” —  Bill Knott

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Brady writes:

I don’t think the crisis in poetry is a social engineering issue.

It’s not a question of ‘how can we bring poetry to the people?’  Or, if this is the question, the question is not a large, complex one, but only a matter of refinement.

Despite the efforts of ground-breaking poet-academics like John Crowe Ransom (whose ashes are scattered on the Kenyon campus), there is no expertise anywhere that can decide how or what kind of poetry should be delivered up to ‘the people.’ I think we need to cure ourselves of this notion right away. Poetry is not for experts. Poetry is how the people short circuit the experts. Science demands a certain a certain amount of expertise; poetry is the joy of science sans expertise.

The people get all the poetry they need from old poetry or pop songs or prose or opera, or comedy, and these avenues will never be supplemented by contemporary poetry of the difficult variety to any significant degree.

Contemporary poetry is mostly lyric poetry and this is in keeping with our ‘short attention span’ age—which began with the rise of the penny presses 200 years ago and coincided with Poe’s famous words, “A long poem does not exist.”  How could it?  No recordings of Poe reading exist, but we do have Edna Millay and Dylan Thomas: listen to them reading their brief poems—how could one take that intensity for long?

John (Harriet comment) asked about the first ‘lyric poetry reading.’  Poe in the 1840s was asked all the time at salons in NYC to read his “Raven.”  John is absolutely right; not only does a long poem not exist, but short poems should not be read for long; they should never be a big imposition.

Perhaps we need to stop apologizing for the ‘short attention span.’  What if it’s not a flaw at all, but a feature of our advanced, busy, speedy-communications age?

Instead of slamming that square peg into that round hole, why don’t we accept that ‘short attention spans’ are part of who we are now; simply a reflection of how we are adapting to our times, and if poetry is not popular, it’s not because the public is too ‘stupid’ to ‘get’ difficult poetry; the poets, and their friendly critics, are stupid in their refusal to stop cultivating ‘long attention span’ poetry.

POSTED BY THOMAS BRADY: ON ON JUNE 2, 2009 at 4:07 PM

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Knott’s response:

“It’s not because the public is too ‘stupid’ to ‘get’ difficult poetry; the poets, and their friendly critics, are stupid in their refusal to stop cultivating ‘long attention span’ poetry.”

–I agree totally with Brady’s point there.

But WHY do (we) poets do this?  Doesn’t the answer lie in the realm of the psychoanalytic…

Almost all writers begin in adolescence by writing poetry—what differentiates those who continue in this futile practice while others (call them adults) go on to write prose…

Given that poetry is the least rewarded/ the least funded of all the writing genres, and indeed of all the arts,

–knowing that, why would anyone willingly opt to pursue this abject vocation…why would anyone seek such inferior status; why would anyone in their right mind join this subgroup, this slaveclass—

Masochists, manic depressives, suicides, all poets are neurotics of the death instinct, losers and failures who embrace the misery of their wretched trade, who wallow in its servile aura of diminishment and squalor—its paltry practice.

But among poets, those dismal defeated schlemiels and corner-biting cowards lured by vile Virgils into the abyss of verse, a fortunate few manage to inhabit the upper circles, its higher hellblocks—

Even among the damned there are divisions…there are even (and it’s almost unbelievable that they can exist) some poets who want to succeed!  Who want their poetry to be read! Who actually try to write poetry that is accessible and can reach an audience!—

What traitors these are to their class—(jeez, if they didn’t want to be failures, why did they become poets!)

No wonder all the normal (i.e. unsuccessful) poets hate the Judas Billy Collins and the quisling Mary Oliver

POSTED BY BILL KNOTT: ON JUNE 2, 2009 AT 5:10 PM

And did Martin Earl take this sitting down, and did Bill Knott not come back with post after post that broke every rule of length and frequency Travis Nichols had ever dreamt of, and did the fracas not wake everybody up and get all the bells in Parnassus ringing?

Oh yes, and yes, and yes!

Yet shortly after Thomas Brady and his friends were punished for writing too much too often, Bill Knott, Eileen Myles, Martin Earl, Annie Finch and all the other passionate irregulars stopped bothering, and despite the best efforts of the new Contributing Writers, Harriet stalled to a  Members Only Chat-roomlike it is.

What a failure of The Poetry Foundation mission!

The Scarriet Editors


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9 Comments

  1. thomasbrady said,

    January 11, 2010 at 9:44 pm

    Wow. Has anyone looked at Harriet lately? It’s embarrassing.

  2. alan said,

    January 12, 2010 at 1:58 am

    You’d think spending a million dollars on a website could buy some discussion too.

  3. Desmond Swords said,

    January 12, 2010 at 2:11 am

    Hey, BL46, thx 4 yr lurv wiv da blg JK, it’s like soo mega! Hurrah!!!

    Chrs don, congrts 4 da mention in yr short two line comment, Big up for chapbook, out in June. The Unbearable Lightness Of Lettuce.

    thx Bl (just being zany), I mean BL: all in a days work for us, wiv loads on the plate. Gotta dash, teaching Zane Goga at 2 EST to da kidz. x don.

    OK, can’t talk now, being cool.

    Ok, chat l8r.

    cool, about, 6, 7?

    mm, doing big important fings then. maybe l8r?

    cool, must dash, not being a waffler with nowt to say, but, like, yay!!

  4. Christopher Woodman said,

    January 12, 2010 at 6:00 am

    Yes, it’s a shocker alright — I looked at Harriet today and all I could find was this:

    RECENT COMMENTS

    Jean Rimbaud was actually
    born in France in 1854, in
    Brumaire. He was,
    unfortunately, stillborn… MORE »
    Gary B. Fitzgerald | 01.11.10

    Arthur Rimbaud stands out in
    poetry, because he has
    eschewed the ‘traditional’
    modern route of … MORE »
    Eric Landon | 01.11.10

    Don, you probably know that
    Tom Verlaine’s given name
    was Tom Miller, and that
    he … MORE »
    john | 01.11.10

    hey sina, such a great topic!
    i dont read on my iphone,
    but i love to … MORE »
    csperez | 01.11.10

    Sotere, I am home from
    Vermont, back in Colorado
    and am finally able to listen, … MORE »
    Bhanu Kapil | 01.11.10

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    “…MORE >>” they call it!

    I guess the problem is that when you have so much money to spend you think you’ve got to show you’re in control of it, and behave as if you had some power over what people think and say, even about poetry. I can’t think of any other reason why Travis Nichols and his colleagues would conclude that what they’ve got now is an improvement over what they had before. It was only last June that Thomas Brady and Bill Knott were kicking up such a provocative storm on Blog:Harriet after all, and look what they’ve got now?

    I haven’t heard that Bill Knott was banned as well, but who knows? Or Martin Earl or Eileen Miles or Annie Finch or even Don Share himself? No, come to think of it, Don Share has made a few remarks from time to time since then, so perhaps he’s just been put “on moderation.”

    In the near future we’re going to do an article on specific Harriet contributers, comparing the quality of each one’s comments before and after September 1st — length, frequency, commitment, all of that. By his own admission, Don Share felt powerless on Harriet too, pointing out that he had no more influence on the blog than we did — which would explain why such an interesting, well-informed and encouraging voice should have gone quiet at the same time as Thomas Brady, Bill Knott, Desmond Swords, and all the other real writers from that time.

    I miss Don Share’s comments because he used to engage me personally in such a thoughtful way, and now he’s just another non-person who chats a clever reference from time to time, or drops a name — like all the others.

    Christopher

  5. thomasbrady said,

    January 12, 2010 at 5:15 pm

    Rather than exploring who Rimbaud, the actual person was, they’re playing with him like a little action figure, pretending what he would be doing today: dropping out of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, etc etc Lame-O.

    The most involved discussion on Harriet in 2 months has been about a film.

    Chatter wags the dog, poetry. They don’t give a f.. about poetry: it’s merely an excuse to add pretension to their chit chat.

    The line between poetry and chatter is SO blurred and it’s SO obvious they would MUCH rather CHAT.

    The pretence that any of these chatterers care for anything more than their chitter chatter has long faded.

    Some of the blame has to lie with Scarriet, which Harriet knows is watching; they are obviously full of trepidation: they dare not tackle real issues for fear of getting laughed at. But hey, that’s…well, welcome to the real world.

  6. james said,

    January 12, 2010 at 6:46 pm

    really….

  7. January 12, 2010 at 9:19 pm

    “Rather than exploring who Rimbaud, the actual person was, they’re playing with him like a little action figure, pretending what he would be doing today: dropping out of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, etc etc Lame-O.”

    All work and no play makes Tom a dull boy.

  8. thomasbrady said,

    January 12, 2010 at 9:37 pm

    Gary,

    “All work, etc”

    Who said I was working?

    Tom

  9. January 16, 2012 at 11:10 pm

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