Follow Harriet on Twitter
Ron Silliman Calls for Wikipoets
Do you like reading long lists of fabulous poets who either made it into, were dropped from, or were wholly exclude from the Norton Anthology of Postmodern American Poetry? If that’s your bag, make your way over to Silliman’s blog today to read another insightful dispatch on the poetry glut. The second editions of the NAPAP is once again edited by the intrepid Paul Hoover, whose first move was to cut himself from the second edition. Silliman explains why:
The first omission you notice – a poet dropped from the first edition of Paul Hoover’s Postmodern American Poetry: A Norton Anthology in the new much-revised & updated version coming out this spring – is Paul Hoover himself. I take that as an index of two vital facts about the new Postmodern (hereafter P² in contrast with the 1994 P¹). The first is a statement as to Hoover’s own diligence & commitment to the project. If, in order to make room for many of the new poets whose work has emerged over the past two decades in this slightly larger edition (917 pages, up from 700), Hoover is going to have to make the excruciating decision to leave out X, Y or Z to free up some pages, then he is going to go first himself. It’s really a statement about integrity and hardly something that any reader would expect Hoover himself to have to do. But he knows full well that every one of the 47 poets dropped from the first edition – nearly half of the original roster of 103 – are going to be furious, unless they have already move on to the great card catalog in the sky. And I suspect Hoover knows that the love he gets from the 59 new poets added to P² won’t prove nearly equal to the reaction he can expect from departed. It’s a hopeless task. So he has made a gesture to this fact by putting himself at the top of that list of the missing. I for one bow deeply to him for the act.
Silliman goes on to discuss the difficulty of creating any anthology in 2013 that could represent the “progressive tradition” in American poetry, seeing that the “estimates of the number of publishing poets in English start at 20,000 – and some more than double that figure…” Silliman then lists which poets made the cut and appear in both P¹ and P², which poets were dropped from P¹, and which poets were added to P². Our favorite list, however, is Silliman’s list of poets in neither P¹ nor P²—the longest list of the bunch!
While we love being reminded of all the interesting, amazing, and innovative poets publishing today, we find Silliman’s conclusion about the glut even more instructive:
What this means, I think, is pretty straight-forward. It is no longer possible – not even plausible really – for the codex format to represent American or English language poetry in any depth whatsoever. After all, I’m just talking about the progressive tradition within American poets. There have to be at least another 500 Quietist poets in addition to the 700 progressives – and that still presumes we’re not representing much more than five percent of poets who go so far as to publish, maybe quite a bit less.
Obviously, it is possible to represent a much smaller selection of poetry in English, a dozen here, two dozen there, whatever. But selections that tiny invariably come down to politics and taste, and it takes not much effort to reveal a much larger number of folks who are just as good, if not better, than whomever you choose to include.
My guess is this: within a decade, at least one major literary institution – a publisher, a school, a foundation, conceivably the Library of Congress – will set up an anthology-like website that actually attempts something on this order. I hope that it’s not a publisher, simply because they don’t understand the responsibility to literature in such an undertaking. I can imagine Norton, for example, charging some phenomenal sum on an annual basis – tho maybe not the $295 per year the OED currently is demanding from individuals¹ – to gain access to what mostly can be found online already. But it would be something on a much larger scale than, say, what Ubuweb, Pennsound or the Electronic Poetry Center – the best online archival websites we have thus far, could attempt.
The minute something like this comes into existence – call it Wikipoets or whatever – then I suspect that these larger (but never large enough) omnibus books will rapidly go the way of the Encyclopedia Britannica. And, at least for the issues of representability & completeness, where even the most well-intentioned anthology seems doomed to failure, I suspect that we will say Good Riddance.
With bated breath, we await the dawn of Wikipoets. Until then, we’re happy that there are some great resource to get our poetry fix, like the ones Silliman cites (Ubuweb, Pennsound or the Electronic Poetry Center), but we should add Poets.org to the list. And, of course, our own online archive, which contains over 3,000 poets and at last count 10,791 poems (oh, and that number doesn’t include the archived poems from 100 years of Poetry magazine). That’s a start, anyway.