The Problem of Pluralism in American Poetry

Are there really only “two traditions” of American poetry, as Ron Silliman says in passing in this blog post? And even if we can sort poets into one of two baskets, what value does the sorting have? And who dies it leave out? Isn’t this a little like saying that there are two traditions in American religion, the Protestant and the Catholic. The first thing such a division does is erase all sorts of useful distinctions among members of those groups — Lutherans are different from Pentecostals, etc. — and the second thing it does is consign to oblivion anybody who won’t fit into one of the baskets — Jews, in my analogy, or Animists. I think this sort of binary thinking has led, not just to needless po-biz controversy, but to a real distortion of understanding of a poet like, say, Hayden Carruth, whom Silliman consigns to a “conservative” oblivion despite the fact that many of his books are in print and that — at least among the folks I know — he is still read. [More on Carruth shortly.] Maybe it was Henry Rago, in the issues of Poetry Silliman makes note of, who saw American poetry in its actual plurality rather than Daryl Hine and Silliman, who saw and continue to see it as divided and constrained.

Note: Cross-posted to The Plumbline School.