Monday, August 02, 2010

All Is Not Well In the Comment Stream

Did you hear who said what to whom?

If you haven’t read these two posts, please do:

Jessica Smith:

Ron Silliman:

Is this the small or large matter?


One does not have to travel far to come across radically over-the-line comments on most any poetry blog that allows comments. Most of these comments do nothing but churn away at arguments or opinions that have, usually, little to do with the topic of the post. Such comments can be personal and harmful. One thing they usually are is hyper-aggressive.

So now Ron Silliman has turned off his comment stream, and I first heard about it on facebook. Maybe that means something. (At least I didn’t hear about it on Twitter, I guess.)

Are we seeing the end of a phase in blogging? Or would that be reading too much into Silliman’s decision? One of the reasons cited for his decision is how hurt Jessica Smith felt by the comment stream on his blog a few years ago when he was praising a book of hers. So it has a human element. And turning to her post:

How do age and gender play into the difficulties of the comment stream? Well, it is said (as Silliman and Smith both note) that most of the offensive comments in comment streams are from males, though at least some of that is a guess as people can use all sorts of anonymous-ish names online. But I thing it’s a pretty safe guess. Age? The assumption is that most of the bad things said online are from older (over 30? over 40?) (white?) (males?) people.

It doesn’t please me. It gets me all in the “why can’t we all just get along” mode . . . but, you know, we mostly don’t get along. Art, like politics, religion, and well, pretty much everything else, is not just predicated on disagreement, but also on power and bitterness. The comment stream, especially the anonymous comment stream, is a powerfully attractive force for people who really feel the need to vent.

So, with comment streams getting turned off, does commenting move over to facebook now, where the anonymous is gone, and one is only among “friends”? There is something to be said for that, I guess.

But the comment stream (what a pastoral concept!) is supposed to be a place where good things happen. For example, the other day I posted what I consider to be “the poem of our age,” aware that it was, well, a bit large of a statement. I was prepared for the worst. And what happened? Kazim Ali came on to remind me of a Jorie Graham poem I haven’t read in something like fifteen years. So then I had something to go do. A movement from one poem to the next. That’s when the comment stream is at its best and why I really don’t like the idea of turning it off.

Passion is number one, right?

We often set up a situation when we post, where the response is going to be hostile or abusive. One of those ways is by being way over the line in our assertions, right? Calling some book better than all the other books, or saying that a book or a poet is more artistically ambitious or some such tends to get people to react with hostility to what we’re saying. That seems natural, for if we say this book is better than all the other books of the last ten years, then everyone who has written a book in the last ten years is going to be, well, implicated. Same thing happens when we go all ballistic on a book or person. The defenders rise with mace and claw. But if one isn't going over the top in one's assertions, then one won't get attention for what one is saying. To say something on the Internet, the rule of the thumbs has it, one must say it BIG. We don't have time for just anything, you know.

But what if we really do think that some book is “the most amazing thing” or “the worst piece of trash”? Well, then here we are, back at squares squabbling in the comment stream. Silliman, in discussing his decision to turn off the comment stream on his blog, quoted from Dylan’s “Desolation Row.” And so I’ll quote from a Dylan song as well, not one of my absolute Dylan favorites, but a good song nonetheless:

I’m listening to Neil Young, I gotta turn up the sound.
Someone’s always yelling “turn it down”

A difference of degree, how, as we’ve moved into Internetville and then out into the suburbs of Twitterland, our comments have become more snide, cynical. It’s like there’s a race to see who can make the most outlandish claims, and who can make the most snarky comeback. When I was young, they blamed television for the lack of civility and decorum, all those family sit-coms with the sarcastic kids and clueless, ineffectual parents, the current apotheosis of which is The Wizards of Waverly Place.

I’m not going to say that we were more civil when I was young. That would be reductive of me. We weren’t. And since most of the worst offenders are people who fit generally my profile (white heterosexual [does sexual orientation have anything to do with it?] males over 40) who grew up roughly as I did, it would be absurd to look back to a simpler time. But what is different is the way technology seems to encourage a sort of bombing raid approach to disagreement. It’s just too easy. So someone writes a post with a claim that’s inflated, as enthusiasm tends to have us do. And then someone bristles at the hyperbole and responds with a version of “you’re a wanker.” And then what? Someone else comes on with a version of “you’re a hob-knocker.”

A fitting end?

La la la.

Addendum: I like to do fairly random google image searches to add to a post. So now I know that the above condom applicator has won some sort of "most beautiful" award. It's good to know there is someone out there keeping track of such things, you know?


At 8/02/2010 6:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 8/02/2010 6:42 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


At 8/02/2010 8:18 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...


From what I understand, it's possible to disable the comment function at a blog without erasing *all prior comments* from public view. Isn't this so? I think your post misses something important about what Silliman seems (in absence of clarification to the contrary) to have decided-- something potentially much more significant, from an ethical point of view, than his perfectly legitimate choice to stop allowing comments from this time forward. It's perplexing to me that no one else seems to have raised a question about the apparent vamooshing of a whole archive (one from which numerous critical books of past few years have already cited material, for example). Here is what I sent to Jessica Smith's blog yesterday on the matter:

>Michael Robbins, a prolific and often insightful contributor to many comment boxes, makes a sweeping, dismissive remark above about the comments archive at Silliman’s blog. He’s correct, of course, that a lot of fluff and drivel was to be found there, among the many thousands of contributions. But it’s also the case that a good many thoughtful, good-faith comments and exchanges (some of them quite rich and lengthy) had appeared under numerous of the posts– often with participation of serious poets and critics and often in eloquent challenge to Silliman’s own partisan readings and critical assumptions.

I put the above in past tense because it would *appear* that Silliman has not only decided to deactivate the comments function of his blog (something he clearly has a right to do), but to also conceal from view every single one of the thousands of comments appearing there over the past eight years (a different matter altogether). And *if* a massive textual disappearance of this kind is his intent, I wonder how people here would regard such a move, in context of this post by Jessica (with whose arguments I don’t exactly concur, but whose frankness I respect) about writers being “silenced.”

Hopefully, the cancellation of the record there is only a temporary glitch and that archive will shortly be restored to direct access, now and for possible future readers who may wish to consider it, for whatever reasons they may. One wants to believe (I wrote Silliman to ask him about it, though without reply) that it *is* only a temporary erasure: because it seems inconceivable that someone would void, at a stroke, a secondary but voluminous archive that is very much a part of the life of recent American poetry– even if that archive is, legally, at his disposal.

We’ll see what happens. As a friend wrote to me this morning, the deletion of that public record, with all its good and bad both, would be nothing short of–from an ethical and literary standpoint–a stunning instance of malfeasance.

At 8/02/2010 8:54 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

>(one from which numerous critical books of past few years have already cited material, for example).

I meant to say 'numerous books and essays of past few years...'

At 8/02/2010 9:12 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


I had not noticed that the previous comments are gone. Odd, in a way, that now Smith's post about those comments sits out there without thoses comments. When I read her post, I went to the comment stream in question, and it put what she said in context. She was young and full of enthusiasm, and a got a bit too into the attention, but the level of the comments directed at her were way out of proportion. I would have acted similarly to how she acted if anyone had noticed, with the kind of priase Silliman was directing toward her, something I wrote when I was just starting out.

Silliman's comment stream (what a funny phrase: "Silliman's comment stream") is, as you say, his to do with, so I'd not raise it to the level of "malfeasance." From what I gather, reading Silliman's blog off and on over the years, he didn't do this without a lot of internal debate. I wish he hadn't, but I understand why he did.

I don't expect people to play nice, but I would think that it could be possible for people to play fair. You know?

At 8/02/2010 9:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read Silliman's post last night and had been scratching my head about it. Mostly I thought he was brave, and quite right, to take this step, though it's regrettable on many levels. I don't think it's anything like as serious as you suggest—"Are we seeing the end of a phase in blogging?" is lurid. I do think that after several years of nonstop Blogger, Facebook, MySpace, etc., folks are much more aware of, and tired by, the social consequences of internet communities.

I disagree, quite strongly (if abstractly, and without heat), with your statement that "the comment stream (what a pastoral concept!) is supposed to be a place where good things happen." It is supposed to be a place where comments happen. Comments happen, as the bumper stickers say. As we know, people are much more apt to behave badly when they're not faced with another physical being, when they have the distance and (often) anonymity of the Interwebs to back them up.

Why can't we all just get along? Original sin, friend. Or, to put it another way, and echo Ron: there are vicious, crazy people out there, and they latch on like limpets. You can't change them, but you can avoid them--and take steps to control, and/or eradicate, their natural habitats.

What's more interesting is why your blog hasn't developed the same rabid (and/or fawning) coterie of commenters that Silliman's has. I don't think it's because your posts aren't thoughtful--I think frankly it's because you aren't famous. It's Silliman's perceived power, as a poetry "star" and tastemaker, that keeps (kept) both the fawners and the trash-talkers coming back. Moths to the flame and all that.

Silliman himself, though provocative, has been a true master of measured (an older generation would have said "polite") discourse. I admire him for this. He expects the same of others and is honestly mystified, I think, by the vitriol. I wish he'd left the comments stream up and simply moderated more effectively--yes, it takes time, but "time" is what Silliman always seems to have, blog-wise--but I think he's perfectly within both his rights and his ethics to shut it down, for the reasons he gives.

Finally, that photograph on your blog is of a decidedly, even desperately, unripe pomegranate. Shame on whoever slit it prematurely.


At 8/02/2010 9:32 AM, Blogger Janet Holmes said...

Hi John & Kent,

I suppose nothing is gone forever. Ron may decide his "comment stream" belongs with his archives, to be searched for its pithy materials after his death, or occasionally upon request by serious academics, as is regularly done when such things as a poet's correspondence is unpublished. In that case, I wouldn't call it malfeasance. It's more like business as usual.

Janet Holmes

At 8/02/2010 9:34 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


True enough. You write:

“I disagree, quite strongly (if abstractly, and without heat), with your statement that "the comment stream (what a pastoral concept!) is supposed to be a place where good things happen." It is supposed to be a place where comments happen. Comments happen, as the bumper stickers say.”

I reply:

I was thinking of the possibility of comments that make the sort of conversation that’s worth having, and was thinking of that as good things. I like polite conversation.

You write:

“Silliman himself, though provocative, has been a true master of measured (an older generation would have said "polite") discourse. I admire him for this. He expects the same of others and is honestly mystified, I think, by the vitriol.”

I reply:

“Provocative” yes, and the things he endorses are the sorts of things most people aren’t inclined to appreciate. And then to add to it, his taxonomy does the same thing, right? He holds a minority position, but one that is also gaining in popularity. It’s the kind of combination that really gets some people going. Especially those who feel threatened by his opinions.

At 8/02/2010 9:38 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Hi Janet,

I don't know how such things work. I haven't tried to do anything with the settings on blogger. It's possible that they are still there somewhere.

To be honest, I thought the comment stream on Silliman's Smith post was instructive. I would've liked to have used it in an MFA publishing workshop (If I taught in one, that is!).


At 8/02/2010 9:50 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

>I don't expect people to play nice, but I would think that it could be possible for people to play fair. You know?


Yes, that is fine. But honestly, I don't see what that really has to do with the matter I'm asking about (and have been unsuccessfully trying to find out about from Silliman front and back-channel, a curious silence, as he's been usually quite prompt and good with responses about much smaller things): the apparent concealment of a vast archive, to which hundreds and hundreds of poets and critics contributed over the years in serious and good faith-- and, of course, *at* Silliman's own invitation.

Often, these contributions were substantive in nature, informed by a good deal of critical perspicacity. Often, too, there were comments of an anecdotal or informational nature that were intriguing and of historical/bibliographic value. As I indicated, there are a number of books and essays already that have made use of the archive of the blog's comments (for instance, one is a fascinating book whose manuscript I've seen on poetry and the public sphere, by Dale Smith, forthcoming from Alabama. There are quite a few other examples.) And of course, the comments as massive record reveal in intriguing ways all sorts of open and unstated things about the life of American poetry over the past near-decade-- things that perhaps future readers will wish to query and write about.

All of which is to say, whether one is happy with everything there or not, that it is an *archive,* which, yes, legally belongs to Silliman, but also, in important sense--as an afterimage, so to speak, of the most widely read blog in poetry-- belongs to a larger realm, not least in that it was *created* by that larger realm. I'd propose the latter should easily seem the case to Silliman, too.

I am fully with you in feelings for some of the crap--hostile and sycophantic both--that got posted there (and curiously, Ron saw fit to post some pretty egregious stuff, even stuff that verged on racism and misogyny). I myself have commented little at his blog over the past few years partly because of it. But again, those instances of trash would in no way justify canceling the total record, if indeed that is what we are seeing.

Let's hope it's just a temporary thing or some kind of snafu. If it isn't, I stand fully behind my characterization of what the erasure would mean, from an ethical perspective.

At 8/02/2010 10:02 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


Indeed, it didn't have anything to do with the matter of Silliman deleting all comments.

I agree that it is a loss to have the comments deleted. The baby often goes out with the dirty diapers, as they say.

Hopefully they still exist, and hopefully they will return.

Some of his posts get a LOT of comments, even as old posts keep getting comments . . . I bet it's a lot of work sifting through them.

At 8/02/2010 10:17 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

At 8/02/2010 10:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I chafe at his decision to destroy/hide all the earlier comments. It falsifies the record.

At 8/02/2010 10:19 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


You write:

"It falsifies the record."

I reply:

Well, I'd not say that, more, I'd say, it puts the record in a safe and then tosses it in the ocean.

Is it a good thing? A necessary thing? Well, as I said before, I wish he hadn't turned off the comments in the first place, so I'm with you that I wish they'd come back. But I also understand that it's a LOT of work to sit there and monitor comments on a blog as popular as his. I understand why he did it, even as I wish he didn't.

At 8/02/2010 10:23 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


I would love to be called "a malignant clown."

Just saying.

My forst poetry reading was talked about on a blog, saying tat I gave a vapid performance filled with "suburban cliches." It's something to write against.

And yes, it's true, it is always going to be so. And yes, Jessica Smith could have handled it differently. And should have.

But all of us should act differently.

At 8/02/2010 10:44 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

>But I also understand that it's a LOT of work to sit there and monitor comments on a blog as popular as his.


According to Nicholas Liu, a young poet who knows a lot more about blogging details than I do, the Blogger platform allows one to deactivate the comment function on threads *without* hiding extant comments.

Thus, the mystery of the disappearing archive deepens.

At 8/02/2010 10:57 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I've never tried, so I don't know. I'm going with hopefully it was just a mistake, and they'll pop back up.

But then, of course, I'll probably never go read them, so I'm not sure why I'm wanting them back. I guess it's for all those people out there and their critical editions.

At 8/02/2010 11:17 AM, Blogger Eli Hemistich said...

It's not so much that, John, as it is the fact--as Ron himself has pointed out so often--that stance (aesthetically or politically speaking) has a history, a pedigree. To elide, remove, or destroy comments that have already been up--that have already been part of the public record, the history of a debate--is, at best, to engage in willful mystification. It's to pretend that stance has no history, that it is in fact normative--as Ron has charged of the SoQ.

Of course, where third parties are concerned--authors whose books Ron has praised or interrogated, and who have thereby been drawn into an ugly fray outside of their control--it's an ethical judgment call. I don't blame Ron for his reaction, but like Kent I do think there were other, perhaps more constructive ways to respond to the predicament.

At 8/02/2010 11:51 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Well, if I were him, all of this would convince me to put the comment stream archives back up.

At 8/02/2010 12:26 PM, Blogger Louise Mathias said...

I wonder if this will reduce the number of visitors to Silliman's blog. I can't help but think it will.

Re: gender. I wouldn't want to have to explain *why* exactly, but I've never felt comfortable, as a woman, posting comments in Silliman's stream. It is definately male dominated, and I mean dominated in the truest sense.

At 8/02/2010 12:29 PM, Blogger Jeannine said...

Dear John,
I was just thinking of an old blog post I recently mentioned on my blog, and the truly supportive set of comments people (including you) left me. This was back in 2007. Currently I have to "accept" or "reject" comments, not because of mean comments, but because of spam.
I think one reason why Silliman attracted such negative company is because it was perceived to be a discourse of power, a discourse that mattered, and so everyone wanted to be the star. That never happened on my blog - too inconsequential - and subsequently, the comments stream there has remained bizarrely helpful, positive, from a range of poets, most of whom I have never met.
I guess sometimes it's good to be out of the line of fire?

At 8/02/2010 1:32 PM, Blogger Steven Fama said...

I suggest that Ron Silliman attracted a certain type of comment not only because he was a locus of "power" or authority (I agree he was, and that his position attracted, as Jeanine suggeests, comments) but also because he used his pulpit to sometimes dish out a judgmental criticism himself.

I mean, he SoQ'ed folks often enough, and (just as one example) I remember he asked "how pathetic is that?" with regard to certain possibilities related to Jeff Clark's book. Sharpened judgments and assessments will draw sharp responses.

I think all that -- pathetic this, lousy that, and the similar responses received -- is fine. (Sexist, racist and simnilar tripe, though, is a different thing entirely: it ain't okay.)

Nobody much these days seems to pay much attention to the meaning, the implication, of all the tidbits related to critics and harsh criticism from peers in David Markson's final four books. Markson's point seems clear and indisputable: bad-mannered literary criticism, even personal and ad hominem (plus whatever the non-sexist equivalent of that term would be), is a part of creative life. You make, you get responses, often harsh and rude, sometimes from your peers.

And as I've said in the comment box at Jessica Smith's post, the claim of a "silenced generation" is not correct, there's just no way that has happened. Look at all the poetry books published, and all that's on the web!

Consider also the complicated and nothing-to-do-with comments reasons a person may not write much poetry anymore, or a small press may stop publishing!

And it's not just older men against the youngsters! In the wake of Snith's Organic Furniture Cellar (a book I love), the blow-back was from all types of people and poets, including some from her peers. Some of the latter reminded me of the scary parts of Lord of the Flies.

At 8/02/2010 1:51 PM, Blogger Curtis Faville said...

As one who has posted a good deal of content in the Comments Stream of Silliman's Blog over the years, I feel a keen sense of loss at his decision to delete all of it. I cannot believe this business about his being emotionally exhausted (or pressed for valuable personal time), or the presumed offense of a few overly sensitive young poets to rash commentary, as pretexts for his deciding to shut it down. There has to be some larger issue he's not mentioning.

The point really isn't that Silliman has always been a responsible, generous soul, giving free publicity and encouragement to dozens and dozens of (often) young, obscure writers. The point is that he has always had a huge axe to grind, and has often been quite angry and partisan both in attacking what he dislikes, and in praising things that often seem (at least to the eyes of some) undeserving and pale. The idea that the only suitable response to Ron's praise of inferior work should be silence, contradicts the whole history of criticism and the meaning of public debate. Who in his right mind would believe everything s/he thought was correct, and beyond disagreement?

Ron's main point--over and again--is that the School of Quietude has gone unchallenged. He's called out its members, to engage with him in the public square--choice of weapons to be determined. The idea that he gets not only the first shot, but the other party doesn't even get to shoot at all--well, that's not how the game is played.

Predetermined outcomes....

At 8/02/2010 1:54 PM, Blogger Curtis Faville said...

I attempted to post the following on Ms. Smith's blogsite, but she blocked it (at least she has so far):



Disclaimers: I don’t know your work, and I’ve never read your blog before. I just came here via a link provided by another blogger who was reacting to Silliman’s announcement that he has shut down his comment facility in response to bad vibes there.

Let me say I’ve been at both ends of the spectrum over at Silliman’s Blog. Early on, some very mild comments of mine came under severe assault, and two posters even began making real-life threats: A blogger in Oregon, and another in the Bay Area, where I live, even began to make statements which indicated they were either stalking me, or had managed to acquire highly personal information which would only be available to someone with intimate knowledge (!!). I have made passionate statements there–both pro and con–which I felt deserved to be made. These included situations in which I thought Silliman’s unqualified praise and defense of something needed a counterbalancing point of view, as well as cases in which he made unwarranted sexist and class-ist attacks on writers of consequence (such as Robert Lowell).

1. The internet. Blogging is a public media. If you activate a comment box, you are obliged to accept all comments, or to moderate them (approve them for publication). You can remove comments, but you can’t edit them (except your own). In principle, with respect to blogging in general (including my own, The Compass Rose), I believe (along with Noam Chomsky) that all comments should be published, even those which seem pointlessly offensive, in the belief that free speech trumps all personal and “manners” issues, and that people will be hung from the ropes they weave. In my experience (which is, by definition, limited), moderating out comments usually becomes a way of controlling debate (something I’ve found unfortunately to be the case in many political (“public information” blogs)). Accusing people of “trolling” the internet to spread mischief is as often used as a pretext for (unfairly) silencing dissent, as it is a justifiable response to actionable or offensive content. For instance, when I made negative comments about then candidate Barack Obama on Silliman’s site, Ron moderated them out, because he sought to present a solid front of support for the Democratic ticket. I felt this was unethical, and undemocratic, and I told him so (in private).

End Part I


At 8/02/2010 1:54 PM, Blogger Conrad DiDiodato said...


I enjoyed reading your post (and thanks for talking about what's a pretty momentous decision, given Silliman's pretty impressive standing in the poetry community. I've also commented on it in my blog).

I'd like to reinforce an important point made by Kent about the way turning off the comments stream ("a massive textual disappearance") can erase almost eight years' worth of literary archival material, an invaluable record of significant dialogue between active poets & commentators gone forever.

But then, to look at the positive side, it might be seen as an opportunity for other excellent blogs (like yours) to tap into the readership and potential comments stream that the disappearance of "Silliman's Blog" may create.

Just a thought.

Keep the dialogue going!

At 8/02/2010 1:55 PM, Blogger Curtis Faville said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 8/02/2010 1:56 PM, Blogger Curtis Faville said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 8/02/2010 1:58 PM, Blogger Curtis Faville said...

Part II

2. Negative criticism. With respect to the suitability of certain kinds of criticism–positive or negative, polite or rough–writers, artists, critics must all deal with the reactions to their own products. The kind of sensitivity to which you refer–writers being put off by negative reactions–is present to a greater or lesser degree in most people who do creative work, and is the unavoidable consequence of entering the arena of public discourse (to which art and literature belong). If the baseline requirement of all literary discussion is that it must be polite, unharmful, considerate, well-meaning, sweet, decent, etc., then one has relegated criticism (or what Gore Vidal referred to as “book-chat”) to a form of mild approbation (blurbs and marginal adverts). Most of the best criticism I’ve admired in my life would probably be judged by you to be savage and beastly–Mencken, Dwight MacDonald, Edmund Wilson, Cyril Connolly, Pauline Kael–because it freely expresses contempt, disdain, impatience, and opprobrium, as often as (or more often than) it does praise and approval.

If you are not passionate about literature–passionate enough to want and to need to practice it, despite what other people may say about what you write or publish–passionate enough to speak your mind and have opinions openly and publiclty–then you should avoid it altogether. There’s really nothing wrong with writing and reading privately, just as there is nothing wrong with having opinions privately. But writing is a public act. The internet is a vast universe of opinion and propaganda–there are people watching, but for the most part, bloggers are policing themselves. Ron will do what he does. You will do what you do. And I will do what I do. Ron has decided to silence dissent–claiming offensive speech as the pretext. So be it.

I share Kent Johnson’s assertion about Silliman’s act to delete the whole backfile of commentary “a stunning instance of malfeasance.”

At 8/02/2010 2:14 PM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

I just received an email from Ron Silliman. The situation appears to be more disconcerting than I'd imagined.

In regards to the disappearance of the archive of tens of thousands of comments sent to his blog over the past eight years, many of them grouped in extensive and sometimes insightful discussions around various themes and authors, and many of them contributions polemical, anecdotal, bibliographical, idiosyncratical, etc., from dozens of poets and critics of note, and many others of them from dozens of poets likely to be of greater note down the road:

That he hasn't "thought about saving them."

This is truly, breathtakingly, extraordinary.


At 8/02/2010 2:24 PM, Blogger Steven Fama said...

I had a typo in my comment above, which is common enough for me, but one I'd like to acknowledge and correct here since it's of a proper name, of a poet I respect: I meant Smith (probably that was obvious), when I mentioned Organic Furniture Cellar.

At 8/02/2010 2:25 PM, Blogger Eli Hemistich said...

...especially, as I said, for someone who has relentlessly emphasized the historicity not only of the art, but of the enclitic debates that inform the art.

At 8/02/2010 2:26 PM, Blogger Eli Hemistich said...

Sorry; I was responding to Ken's last post--Steven's fot in the way.

At 8/02/2010 2:42 PM, Blogger Curtis Faville said...


Silliman's e.mail strikes me also as astonishing.

He almost never engaged his comment contributors online, which I found peculiar.

Could it be that he regarded the comments as trivial subtexts to the draconian pronouncements in the main posts?

I frequently browsed back or Googled the comment streams to revisit discussions that had gotten quite interesting--more interesting, in many cases, and more eclectic, than the original instigations. Pity that that will no longer be possible.

Back in the day, I used to copy (carbon) all my comment posts, because they frequently would be schnarfed by the blogger host. Later, I found this useful to preserve posts that had been moderated out. But I stopped doing that a couple of years ago--now I wish I'd saved them all. A lot of work and thought went into some of them.

At 8/02/2010 2:50 PM, Blogger Annandale Dream Gazette said...

Why not the whole quote, Kent? Would it perhaps show that Ron merely meant he hasn't had a chance to think about it yet?

You are trying to build a case, AGAIN, where there is none.

I agree with the person above who said that we can at least strive to be fair and polite. Fair and polite would mean clarifying the facts, Kent, before you go around promulgating your most recent conspiracy theory throughout the world wide web.

At 8/02/2010 3:24 PM, Blogger Curtis Faville said...

Dear ADG:

Silliman's decision to shut down his comments stream--the whole archive--was either made in extreme, impulsive haste (if you believe it), or was intended to accomplish other ends. Personally, I think his desire to appear removed (distanced) from the fuss and muss of the squabbles, which he set into motion with his posts, plays a big part in it. Anyone as contentious as Silliman is about his beliefs doesn't retreat without a pressing distraction.


No, but weariness and political correctness aren't the whole reason either.

At 8/02/2010 3:48 PM, Blogger Steven Fama said...

By the way, fantastic post over at Ron's today -- nice to have those early books of Scalapino's available on the screen (though I insist it'd be better to have them, as objects, in hand)!

At 8/02/2010 4:09 PM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 8/02/2010 4:19 PM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

Sorry, something got accidentally deleted from last post. Here it is again:


I didn't quote the whole sentence, because I thought it would be more proper, sans permission, to quote half the sentence and paraphrase the rest.

The clear sense of the sentence, as written, is that the materials under discussion have little value or meaning for Ron: Not only has he blocked access to all past comments, he states he hasn't even decided whether he is going to SAVE them... (I repeat, it's an extraordinary statement.)

Also, can you remind me what other "conspiracy theory" I've promulgated on the web?

In any case, there is no conspiracy theory involved here, so far as I can tell. What we seem to be talking about is one person with quite a bit of influence in a poetic subculture holding a substantial body of text by others in bizarre disregard, if not a kind of cynical contempt. I say we *seem* to be talking about that, because I still hold out hope I may be wrong. But since there is a strong indication now of possibility that the whole space station may evaporate at any moment, I want to speak as forcefully on the issue as I can.

At 8/02/2010 4:30 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Um, well, I went to the pool with my kids. A lot of comments here.

One thing that strikes me, Kent, is that Silliman's reaction is what my reaction was at first to reading that all his comments were gone. It didn't stirke me as very important. You (and an ANON and Eli, &etc) have convinced me that there was value, perhaps, in those comments. But I have sympathy with Silliman on this one.

As for his demeanor creating an atmosphere where people would engage with hostility. I see that point, as well. He asserts things with fervor, doesn't he? And that SoQ thing. It sure does get people going. In the past, it's gotten me going as well. Now I rather enjoy hearing it whenever it pops up in a "who got SoQ-ed this week?" sort of way.

Reginald Shepherd sure used to get worked up about it, saying that Silliman would make broad statements implicating HIM, Reginald, in the SoQ, when clearly he was Post-Avant . . . Ah, good times.

But I've also seen Silliman say nice things about all sorts of poets that one wouldn't expect. You know?

At 8/02/2010 4:36 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Louise and Jeannine:

To be honest, I didn't want to comment in Silliman's comments because, well, it felt like such a coterie, you know? I felt like the conversation was already always going on and that I was eavesdropping by even looking at it.

But this made me laugh out loud, as a, um, male visual:

"posting comments in Silliman's stream"

Heh-heh. Power. I agree. There is the air of power and authority to Silliman's blog. And power calls out to power.

I'd rather wear a funny nose and a big orange wig, myself.

At 8/02/2010 4:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am awed by the gorillas--wow does that photo illustrate their power! Talk about lithe ripping muscle!

adam strauss

At 8/02/2010 6:19 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


Well, you're not the only one, as I got the picture through the google image search for "awesome".

So there you go...

At 8/02/2010 6:28 PM, Blogger Curtis Faville said...

Poor gorillas! Now I know for sure it's spelled with one R and two L's. Good old Spellcheck!

Also, Kent's Space-station metaphor for Silliman's blog is sheer genius.

Every morning it orbited around, transmitting a new message of hope and delusion.

I tried to stay away--and managed to do so for about six months--but eventually was lured back.

It's addictive. How else would I have ever taken Project Runway seriously? Only because Ron told me to!

But I can't, seriously, see Ron as a dress designer, can you?

At 8/02/2010 6:44 PM, Blogger Leslie said...

Okay, I was never a reader of Ron Silliman's blog, but maybe because

a) it's pretty boring and empire-buildy all the time and

b) I never believed him to have either power or influence. In fact, I didn't know who he was until I started blogging and lots of people linked to his blog.

Plus, even if I had believed him to have crazy influence in the po biz, and even if I wanted to get close to that power and influence, well, see a) above.

So this whole thing is a little like tempest meet teacup to me.

Dickinson wanted her letters and papers destroyed on her death. Blogs are, by nature, personal archives. Yes they are accessible to anyone with a computer, but we are all the "blog owner" of our blogs and RS can do whatever the heck he wants with his. When you write someone a letter, you don't then get to claim ownership of it--they can show it to anyone or throw it in the trash. Yes, I know that great comment streams become conversations and worth having access to, but by commenting on someone's blog you are entering their space, giving them control of your comments. I know a ton of blogs that moderate comments--allowing only those they approve to appear in the comment stream.

I did something a little more extreme. After some ugly comments and the appearance of a stalker on my blog, I simply made the whole thing private and accessible by invitation only. It is still a conversation, but more like a facebook one in that only those I invite can read any of it at all--my posts and all comments, whether posted when it was public or after.

And yes, I've noticed the vitriol and nastiness of a lot of blog comments. And yes, to me it seems that it is largely male and, (on the blogs I read most often) largely confined to two people.

The condom applicator, passion fruit and the first two comments in this stream made me fall about the place with laughter. So, you know, there is that.

At 8/02/2010 6:53 PM, Blogger Leslie said...

ps--About the condom thingy--Is the idea that condoms come this way straight out of the package, or is the idea that, in the, ahem, grip of passion, one must not only pause to tear into the package, but then snap the condom into pictured apparatus and then apply and then pick up where you left off?

Because I don't think the gorillas would be down with that.

At 8/02/2010 7:15 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


Indeed. But they're beautiful, you know?

At 8/02/2010 7:21 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


There are criticisms one can have of Silliman's blog, but I read your tone as more mocking than valid criticism. It's this tone that throws gasoline on fires in comment streams, and what leads to, well, what this whole conversation is about. Or was about. I get confused after about comment 37.

At 8/02/2010 9:29 PM, Blogger Curtis Faville said...


It's hard to know what you mean by "this tone that throws gasoline on fires in comment streams, and what leads to, well, what this whole conversation is about." I've read my three previous posts on this thread, and I can't find any whiff of this flippant or "mocking" tone you refer to. They read to me as pretty straightforward statements.

Early on, people used to accuse me of being Silliman's "second" or "toad" because I always agreed with him, and fought off his detractors.

Then, later on, when I took him to task for a few of his more extreme positions regarding what he calls "Quiet" poets, people began to accuse me of being the resident troll.

Ron and I were once friends. He was one of the very few people who promoted my work, and I've always been grateful for that. But I refuse to be officially associated with anyone, least of all someone who expects me to lie down and get with the program. I also love a good cat-fight, as long as it's witty and doesn't get scatological or too personal.

I think, to be very sober about it, that people associate me with Silliman's comment box squabbles, even though I very seldom post in a spirit other than complete seriousness and courtesy. Perhaps you're just guilty of forming vague impressions...?

I posted the J. Smith comments here, because she wouldn't post them on her own box. (I figured people who were following the discussion would be likely to see them here.) When I checked out her site, and her rep online, I discovered why I would be demonized. But there I go again--unable to get with the program.

At 8/02/2010 10:00 PM, Blogger Carmenisacat said...

Mr. Gallagher, you are a malignant clown. Didn't want to let you down or make you frown, now take off that evening gown. yea. CA Conrad got it door closes and another one opens. Happens all the time.

At 8/03/2010 3:36 AM, Anonymous homelesseus said...

I'm always confused when I read these blog-thread-commentisms. Americans are such wimps, hiding always behind the "proper" way to engage someone--and some of us know perfectly well what "politically correct" means, and its effect on poetry and aesthetics in America. This is a country, after all, that has invaded 6 countries in the past 20 years. Could our poetry be anything but what it is? Obsesses with the personal and local (where our innocence is ensured) In Germany during the Nazi period a kind of "denkverboten" was pervasive, whereas your very thoughts were legal or ill. That's the current situation in America, obviously on a less dramatic level. If Poets want to compete with Hollywood and Mainstreet, then let them do so it at their own peril. Poetry's bigger than anyone of us, and, at certain historical times, it is in the hands of those who least deserve it. Were there any Nazi poets? Poets that wrote from a Nazi perspective? I' ll have to check them out. If Heidegger was there maybe some of the poets were there too.

At 8/03/2010 3:48 AM, Anonymous homelesseus said...

obviously didn't so a proofread on my comment above

At 8/03/2010 5:27 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


It's possible I'm being over-sensitive, but I read your comment above regarding Silliman's posts, here:

"How else would I have ever taken Project Runway seriously? Only because Ron told me to!

But I can't, seriously, see Ron as a dress designer, can you?"

As past the line of wit and into the territory of mocking. It's not a deep intrusion out of bounds, but it's the type of close to personal attack that, as I said, "throw gasoline."

As I said, it's possible I'm being over-sensitive. Which is a good thing for me to know about myself, I suppose.

At 8/03/2010 7:30 AM, Blogger Curtis Faville said...


I would have said yes, you are being a little deliberately over-sensitive, except that I note, for instance, that you've posted a picture of a condom applicator on your site.

In my book, that's in very poor taste.

But, then, we weren't talking about your web courtesy, but my own.

It probably doesn't matter, but Ron himself discussed his one-time secret to become a dress designer--that if he only hadn't become a poet...--on his own blog--which I found quite astonishing. My remark reflects my actual feelings, and isn't sardonic or sexist in any way. Those are things you're reading in to it, and reflect on your thinking, not mine.

Would it require a knowledge of Ron's relevant blog entry to be exonerated from the charge of insensitivity?

Your presumptions here might also be construed as a little hostile, no? I'm not into baiting, just trying to defend my rep, here. I probably should shut up, but the point seems worth clarifying.

At 8/03/2010 7:49 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


Apologies. I had no intention of being hostile.

At 8/03/2010 7:49 AM, Anonymous Perezoso said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 8/03/2010 8:53 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

The above comment by someone named Perezoso, was the second time I've ever deleted a comment. The first was when someone accused a poet of sexual misconduct, without proof, and the poet threatened legal action.

Seriously. There have to be some rules of conduct.

At 8/03/2010 8:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

John, you do know Curtis Faville is just baiting you, don't you?

At 8/03/2010 9:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yr another pussy Gallagher. Don't you have some watermelons to smash, or firehose to spray? rules of conduct will do for slate. or salon. or yr favorite lesbian democrat site. Not beat lit.

You think this is like about civility and appeasing the cafe-ahhtistes? Its not, puto. Its about like rage, and glory and not going gently into that not-so-good night, punk. Kerouac on a flatbed. Jack London in alaska. Conrad on a steamer. Dostoyevsky in prison.

Literature not merely for spinsters, or drama queens, haiku-weavers or Sylvia Plath basketcases. If it is, fuck the shit. Capichay?

At 8/03/2010 9:13 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Anon 1. Maybe he is maybe he isn't. I think it best to move along.

Anon 2. The Gallahers and the Gallaghers fought it out years ago, apparently. It was very bloody they say. But I don't really care. I'm adopted.

I thought the rest of your comment was pretty funny, if historically and aesthetically inaccurate.

It's one thing to be agressive and to hold strong opinions, but it's quite another when a comment like the one I deleted insinuates that someone should be drugged and (by inference) raped.

At 8/03/2010 9:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 8/03/2010 9:54 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

OK, I've just deleted another comment.

It was, in effect, saying I misread the previous comment that I deleted, which is entirely possible, as what I was reading into was a _______ that had been left at the end of a sentence.

I deleted the comment not for that, but for its use of inappropriate and offensive modification.

The commenter might be correct in that it's possible that I know nothing about literature. Literature is big and I am small. I’ll take that under advisement. Thanks!

At 8/03/2010 11:32 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

FYI, posted just now at Jessica Smith's blog, since the threads are parralel in topic (at least most of the time!):


I humbly admit I didn't know the comments to Silliman's posts were still available some clicks away in Cached version. I'm still a bit unclear on this, though, even after reading the explanation at your blog. How long do the pages remain available in this form? Is it "permanent" in the sense that they exist at least as long as their blog source exists? Or are there limits and what would those be? On the other link you offer, I gather from comments at your blog that it is incomplete and unreliable as archival instrument.

In any case, the RS comment materials, as I've argued, constitute a massive record, full of all kinds of stuff. From lots of garbage, to insight­ful analy­sis, to help­ful bib­li­o­graphic data, to reveal­ing polemic, to sur­pris­ing anec­dote, to funny and unfunny per­for­mance. It’s a messy mix, but the fact is that rich, valu­able stuff often comes out of repositories that have lots of dross in them. And the good stuff is more often than not fortuitously stumbled upon. That's why--even if they are preserved elsewhere--I believe they should remain on the blog, as part of the record of its life and as unmediated resource for use. They are, in a secondary but real sense, as well, organically tied to the ebb and flow of Silliman's own thinking in his posts, something which he himself has acknowledged on different occasions. And obviously, too, many future readers will never encounter the comments materials in the cached version.
From a technical standpoint, the issue seems to be this (and maybe it all comes down to this, in the end): Does the deactivation of a comments field mean that the existing record has to be hidden? I'm the last person you'd want to consult on the technical aspects of Blogger, but what I've heard from a couple folks familiar with the service is that extant comments in old threads *can* be preserved when one moves to a comment-block function. Is this or is this not the case?

If everything has been removed as result of a default quirk *about which nothing can be done*, and if the cached materials are as complete and available in time as they would be were they on the blog itself, then I'll modify my position to a request that Ron put up a clear sidebar that helps people navigate to the cached comments. And I will suggest, as well, that he proffer, sometime soon, a public appreciation (and maybe even sense of regret) to the hundreds of people who contributed there, over the years, in often illuminating ways.

At 8/03/2010 12:23 PM, Blogger מבול said...

The second anonymous comment is by Horatiox. You should kick him off your board. He represents a trust of giant insects from another galaxy. Problem is, as I indicated on Jessica's blog, that his stuff is ACCURATE. Jack Londan was in Alaska, if only briefly. This is the dichotomy ofInternet poetry. A wise guy like this might be a good poet. Actually, Horatiox probably isn't it, but another one was.

At 8/03/2010 2:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for the gorilla photo notice! Classic!

adam strauss

At 8/03/2010 3:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 8/03/2010 7:05 PM, Blogger Curtis Faville said...


I wasn't trying to bait you, I promise!...

I'm serious about poetry, care deeply about it. No one who read my commentary, or my blog, could come to any other conclusion.

I have expanded my knowledge of Jessica Smith, and from everything I see, she cultivates a kind of over-sensitivity which I find disingenuous, even self-serving. Does it matter, in this respect, that she's a woman? Not at all.

I continue to agree with each of Kent Johnson's amplifications of his original objection to the archiving of Silliman's comment files. It's just wrong.

That Ms. Smith should enjoy the notoriety of having been the initial instigation of this strikes me as a tragi-comic development of the first order. What could Ron have been thinking? --three guesses....

At 8/04/2010 7:35 PM, Anonymous 01010101 said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


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