Sunday, April 19, 2009

Tombstoine and Stats: The Living and The Dead

Over at his popular blog, Ron "The Big Man" Silliman continues to put up tombstones for dead poets.

Silliman's Blog's like a newspaper now: event listings, directories, death notices. How about birth notices? Each time a poet is "born" Ron should post up a blue or pink fountain pen. Or something like that.

Meanwhile, Ron continues his fascinating poet-census dialogue with Seth Abramson:

All of these I take as signs just how large the literary community has become. In a city of 50,000 (to use Seth Abramson’s figure for the number of poets publishing in English), one would anticipate 12 deaths on an average week, even if everyone lived to be 80, which not one of these four did. Of course, neither Sedgwick nor Meschonnic would be included in a strict counting of Sedgwick’s census. And most poets don’t begin publishing until they are 20 (David Shapiro & I were precocious), so that 50,000 figure really has to be amortized out over 60 years even if we all make it to 80 – actuarially, you would expect 16 such deaths a week.

This leads me to think (once again) that Abramson’s number is too high, though his underlying point is well taken. And one could respond that my calculations in the paragraph above presume a relatively even age distribution of the 50,000, which I think Abramson & I would both agree there is not. At least half of the 50,000 are under 35, possibly much more than that.

Like watching two Chess Grandmasters playing through the mail. Snail mail.

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