Doing the School of Quietude Rag

Note: This post has been edited in response to Tom Morgan's comment & after re-reading his original blog post. I was irritated (see my response to Morgan in comments) & now see that I mischaracterized Morgan's intention. Tom Morgan has two posts [first, second] recently dealing with the history & cultural politics of Ron Silliman's name for poets he doesn't like, the "School of Quietude." If I were in the business of creating poetic political parties I might invent a School of Lassitude, who write  a poetry of disingenuous verbal ping pong. But that just seems like a way to perpetuate more bullshit. I don't think Morgan actually adds much to the conversation -- he is another Silliman groupie with a Buddhist spin -- but [T]he comments by Mark Granier (Lightbox) & Art Durkee (Dragoncave) (neither of whom I know) in response to his post are worth reading. [So are those by Anonymous.] Morgan begins with a standard piece of rhetoric about not wanting to split the world into binary pairs, but then proceeds to do exactly that [or appears to do so, though perhaps he is simply acknowledging that he has not reflected on the use of the term "post-avant"] while maintaining that all he wants is to "understand" his colleagues who dwell in the outer darkness. Silliman (& Morgan) use[s] the label "School of Quietude" as a cudgel to beat poets they don't he doesn't like & then deploy[s] the term "post-avant" as an honorific title for poets who descend from Language Poetry [& the Beats?]. The fact that I am suspicious of the way Morgan flies a letter from Ange Mlinko to Ron Silliman as a little banner in his first post before withdrawing his endorsement of her petulance[.] is a really classic piece of rhetorical flim-flam. It strikes me that, for a sophisticated post-modernist[s] like Silliman, this is simply a piece of political jujitsu. If one were being descriptive rather than prescriptive, one might well use "post-avant," but why not then invent a parallel neutral term, say, "post-confessional" to describe another process within American poetry. I admire a fair number of the same poets that Silliman & Morgan admire, but their deployment of the simple-minded binary terminology of "post-avant" versus "school of quietude," even if taken entirely descriptively, serves to rub out a large body of poetry. I don't accept literary criticism as erasure. Afterthought: It strikes me that "post-avant" as a category is quite capacious & that as usually deployed is meant to include pretty much all American poetry that descends from Modernism with the special exception of poetry that descends from the so-called Confessional poets. Another way of mapping the divide is to think of the post-avants as poets who reject naturalistic description in order to foreground the play of language; that is, there is a broad epistemological assumption among the post-avants about the relationship between language & the world. I think Silliman credits Charles Bernstein with the phrase, "the turn toward language." And that is a turn away from the world. Odd that Tom Morgan, who describes himself as an eco-poet, would find himself in this camp. (And by "odd" I really just mean curious, or that it makes me curious.) Now, I am a long way from proposing a positivist notion of language: I have read Wittgenstein. But that begins to take this little fantasia of an afterthought further than I am prepared to follow this evening . . .

Author: jd

Joseph Duemer is Professor of Literature Emeritus at Clarkson University in northern New York state. His most recent book of poems is Magical Thinking from Ohio State University Press. Since the mid-1990s he has spent a good deal of time in Vietnam, mostly Hanoi. He lives with his wife Carole & five terriers (four Jack Russells & one Patterdale) on the stony bank of the Raquette River in South Colton.

4 thoughts on “Doing the School of Quietude Rag”

  1. Joseph,

    Apologies for rubbing you the wrong way with my post and/or comments. The idea for the post was actually pretty simple, and really not intended, as you point out, “to add anything to the discussion.” I was simply trying to inform myself and my 20 or so readers about what Silliman meant when he used the term “School of Quietude.” I’ve noticed that among poets that I associate with (thirty-somethings, New Americans lineage), we have adopted Silliman’s School of Quietude moniker without giving it much thought. All I did (which I explain on the post) is to do a little Google searching and to look through Silliman’s posts and piece together a lineage of The School of Quietude. I posted the Mlinko letter (as I say on the post) to demonstrate how contentious the issue has become. As far as I can tell, I don’t really take an “angry” stance myself in the original post. For the record, I’ve been a bit skeptical of this School of Quietude idea, but since I’ve started working with Bennington/Breadloaf writers, I’ve been shocked a number of times by their automatic dismissiveness of anything not official verse.

    What bums me out is your attacking nature. The name throwing “Silliman groupie,” “flim flam,” etc., seems actually to perpetuate the “bullshit” that you speak of more than anything I posted or said. That sucks! By agreeing with many of the responses to my post—including some of the criticism—I wanted to simply demonstrate that I’m not a know-it-all. This is true. I really don’t have the answers to all of these questions. In fact, the post was an honest attempt to make a map of the current debate. As you point out, some of the responses that I got actually add more to the debate than I do in the post. I found some of these replies informative and helpful myself. Furthermore, I agree with you as well that a neutral term for the SoQ would be much more useful than a pejorative one (However, I’m worried that for saying this, you will think of me as even more of a flim-flammer!). Naming a new term for the School of Quietude simply wasn’t my intention.

    Best to you,

    Tom Morgan

  2. Tom, thanks for your response. My lack of patience comes from years of having felt excluded from both sides of of this debate while at the same time feeling the debate was meaningless. Oh! You have an MFA from Iowa. That equals SoQ! Oh! (from both sides) You publish in APR. That’s so icky.

    Actually, I think a real history of American poetry since WWII needs to be written that balances the tendencies of what Silliman calls the post-avant & what I am proposing to call post-confessional. And it is important to see these tendencies not as opposite camps but as currents that overlap in interesting ways. I’ve just been reading Bob Perlman’s new book Iflife & there is a remarkable amount of personal anecdote woven into those poems. To go back to my own experience, I took a class with ur-SoQ poet Donald Justice many years ago in which we spent weeks studying WCW’s poems, to which Justice was deeply sympathetic. The categories are not merely useless, they erase great swaths of poetry.

    In any case, thank you for your good-tempered response. I’m going to edit without erasing some of my post to reflect the fact that I am retracting, not the substance, but the manner in which I expressed myself.

  3. Joseph,

    Here’s to talking things through! I appreciate the gesture, and I support your insight about the unnecessarily pejorative nature of the name “School of Quietude.”

    Again, sending my best to you,


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