Your Money’s Worth

Posted on August 3, 2010


One thing I do every day (unless I’m without Internet access) is check Ron Silliman’s blog. It’s the only blog I check on a regular basis. The reason? Ron gives the reader an incredibly valuable store of information on poetry, publishing and culture. For one thing, his fairly frequent link blasts provide me with publishing info that rivals what comes out of Publishers Weekly or Publisher’s Marketplace. For another, he’s diligent and industrious: there’s new content every day. Yet another reason, his Recently Arrived clues me in to books and magazines I’d be really interested in reading. And yet another, his commentaries are engaging and thought-provoking. I might not necessarily agree with everything, but he does something extremely precious: he gets me thinking (more often in a way where intellect trumps emotion).

Even though he has some help in compiling his link blasts, I wonder where he gets the time and energy to maintain his blog. Knowing how hard it is to fit in getting at least one post up a week, I admire and envy him. I’d also have to reiterate: his information is supremely useful. So useful I’d pay for it. Ron’s giving us all a huge gift. I’d like to see someone else provide such a variegated and utilitarian blog. Go ahead. I dare you.

If you run a blog, you can turn on comments. If comments are turned on, you can moderate them. Moderating them requires work in screening (& possibly editing) them. These comments can also take a psychic toll that occurs when one reads ttons of either truly bad prose and/or truly hateful prose.

So after spending an evening posting comments on Facebook on Brian Henry’s thoughtful piece on contemporary poetry criticism (and finding the tenor of some of the other comments there strange and blustery and disconcerting), I passed when I checked Ron’s blog that Saturday where he announced his reasons for shutting down comments on his blog. I found out when it surfaced on Facebook. A photo of Pound headed the post, but with company coming I made the mental note to read it later.

Besides its immediacy (and ease of correcting), one major advantage blogging has over other forms of publishing is the swiftness and ease of engendering discussion. In the old days, a thoughtful piece in a scholarly journal could generate a discussion and responses, but that would be dependent on the journal’s frequency. The commentary gets spread out over time. It also gets peer-reviewed (same as the generating piece). It allows one to lower the emotional register and raise the intellectual one. However, the commentary is very time-lagged.

Comments on blogs permit an immediate response. But it’s a non-peer-reviewed response. (But in all fairness, the blog post was probably not peer-reviewed either. Note: In this instance, I could consider an informal “peer review” process of having a colleague or friend or someone else read a post before posting as valid. Also, in the “ole” days one might show an invective-laden letter to the editor to a spouse or friend who might counsel against sending it off thus.) The blogger can moderate the post (yes, a form of censorship but any “letter to the editor” is subject to editing [i.e., censorship]).

For my own blog here, I view comments as a way of sharpening my thinking and opening up my perspective. One reason I find it so hard to (start) writing is the horrible fear of not being able to completely grasp and express something. I live with the fact that every time I write I fail (yessiree, thanks Mr. Beckett). I fail because I cannot completely know something and perfectly express that knowledge (yes, I know, one definition or argument for a “supreme being”). I look to the comments field to help me see something I missed, find my errors, sharpen thinking. I don’t look to the comments field for validation (yesfolk need not apply), although it’s nice to hear once in a while that you aren’t doing as shoddy a job as you think you are.

For me, comments are a way of furthering dialog to expand (and perfect as much as possible) knowledge and perception, as well as expression. Human history is replete with bad behavior. Poets are not exempt. It’s just damned frustrating that’s there’s always a handful of people who live in terror of progression and who cannot recognize the gift of valiant effort.

Notice of full disclosure: Quale Press has offered to consider to publish
any collection of blog posts Mr. Silliman would wish to send us.