Poets blogging is just a symptom. The decline of indie bookstores, including the closure of such stalwarts as Cody’s & Shaman Drum, is just a symptom. The slow, painful death of newspapers, most of which have already tossed their book review sections and literary critics overboard, is itself just a symptom. The collapse of academic literary journals—viz. TriQuarterly, Southern Review, and Poetry Northwest, three of my first publishers—is just a symptom. Trade publishers openly speculate that they may be next, and even universities are starting to fear that their turn may be coming. They’re right.
Just as MFA programs have pumped the number of poets writing and publishing in the United States up from a few hundred a half-century ago to tens of thousands today, the major institutions that not only embodied all of this activity but served an important (if hotly contested) gate-keeping function are now all being undermined or transformed by the ongoing revolution in communications technology. The poet’s relationship to his or her audience is undergoing a profound transformation. The poet’s relationship to the institutions and even to the tools of her or his practice is doing likewise. Everything is up for grabs.
Some poets have chosen to embrace the new with everything from flarf to technology-based visual poetries. Others have decided that the “timeless” values of tradition will outlast even this. They recall and sometimes reiterate the archaeologist’s maxim that ultimately, hard copy is truth. If you can’t dig it up in 5,000 years, did it ever exist? Ian Hamilton Finlay, with his stone-carved minimal texts, may outlast us all.
What’s apparent is that (a) this joyride isn’t over, and (b) we’re all in this together. When I realize that any chapbook publisher with a Blogspot page and PayPal account can sell directly to readers worldwide, I feel hopeful. I just hope we can find time to read & enjoy this great bounty.
I have extracted this from a much longer article - it is Silliman's contribution to 2000-2009: The Decade in Poetry, published at the Poetry Foundation's website at the end of last year. Have a peek at Eileen Myles' contribution, where she speaks with anticipation of the possibilities of new alchemical combinations/partnerships for poetry.
I will be rifling my hoard of older online material over the coming months for snippets like this - I have over 400 articles bookmarked 'to:read'. Often I just go to the end of the list and knock a few off, but from time to time, I do read a couple. Like today. He does have a point about reading, I must confess.