August 19, 2008

The Reality Street Book of Sonnets

Having recently received The Reality Street Book of Sonnets edited by Jeff Hilson, I was struck by the exhilarated curiosity one feels when in the presence of a great anthology. I counterpose this feeling with the contrary feeling you get from the salad-mixing of popular anthologies. Bookshop poetry sections offer two shades of negativity in this regard: pick up an anthology at random and you either have that sinking feeling that these people can get away with such sloppy publishing and concomitant sense of superiority you get from seeing these feeble efforts. As Ron Silliman wrote in “In The American Tree” – “[this] anthology is a record of the debate”, but there is an endless stream of imbeciles chattering at the moment. Anyway, these thoughts cause me to return to something I’ve not read for years – ‘A Pamphlet Against Anthologies’ by Laura Riding & Robert Graves. The essay argues that there are only 3 types of anthology that are acceptable:
A non-professional, non-purposive collection, such as the poet’s or amateur’s scrapbook; the rescue-anthology, the value of which is primarily historical; and third – the anthology that is criticism. I think there is a fourth. The question of the form of an anthology is a live one for me at the moment because I am in the process of editing one to accompany next year’s Text Festival. The Book of Sonnets is a particularly good one. It made me think about really good anthologies: “In The American Tree” obviously, Rothenberg & Joris’s definitive “Poems of the Millennium”; “Other” Caddel & Quartermain; the Chicago Review “New Writing in German”. With very positive feelings about the Book of Sonnets, I am pleased to note that the Text Anthology (probably not its final title) shares a number of poets – Tony Lopez, Carol Watts, Robert Sheppard, Alan Halsey, (that I can remember without looking at the list). But having returned to the Riding and Graves, I note they also have a lot to say about the implications of classification within what they call a true anthology – approaches mentioned include alphabetical order of poets’ names or titles, or chronological by birth or death of the poets. Silliman divided In The American Tree geographically – East and West Coast. The fourth type I think is the most exciting to delve into, to read – in the way Lawrence Weiner means with READ ART. It is, as Silliman comments in his introduction the poetic conversation of …“The nature of reality. The nature of the individual. The function of language in the constitution of either realm. The nature of meaning. The substantiality of language. The shape and value of literature itself. The function of method.” So I still have the question of how I will construct the Text Anthology. I’ll want it to do those things. “Anthologies are not facts, but individual viewpoints over complex fields of information.” So it will be a curation.

Anyway, off to Toronto now.

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