Another old-fashioned notion

Ron Silliman's blog post of today argues that the explosion of contemporary poetry production, the exponential growth in the population of good poets, makes anthologies as we know them obsolete.  He suggests that new kinds of web-based aggregators and reference tools for collating & organizing access and attention to all these poets are on the horizon.

Today, it seems, the advocates for multiplicity (in all its forms) are many.  Not only are more and more poets acknowledged and recognized, but more and more diverse forms of artistic and quasi-artistic activity are now called "poetry" (see : conceptualism, flarf, uncreative writing, performance poetry, visual poetry, and many more new types of digital/intellectual games-playing).

I would like to sketch out (very sketchily) an unfashionable, diametrically-opposed position.

These days we have difficulty imagining the notion of semi-hierarchical framing structures, which shape the world of human culture and intellect.   But I think it might be important for the health of contemporary poetry if we were able to do so.

Poetry is subsumed by a larger cultural/intellectual system we call civilization or history. The professional poetry factory (perhaps especially in the U.S.) tends to forget this. Poetry comes to the fore when it engages with these deeper, more universal entities. Shakespeare and Dante are considered masters and touchstones, not simply because they developed beautiful and intricate poetic styles, but because they fashioned their art in order to engage with the deepest intellectual, historical and moral currents - the structuring historical "problems" facing human civilization in their age. 

Poetry's interaction with culture & history is not determined by numbers or headcounts. There's an element of intellectual/artistic leadership involved (as there is in science, or politics...). The individual poet sets his or her seal on this larger dimension - by means of conscious, critical engagement with a shared, common, communal world of general culture and history - of fact and event.

Unity and synthesis require choice & judgement. It's an unfashionable notion in an age of multiplicity and relativism.  The problem is not too many poets for decent anthologies.  The problem is that we lack the intellectual tools and the moral fortitude to conceive of poetry within a larger (historical) frame, both unitary and fateful.

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