Ron Silliman - Guest Lecturer

"Silliman’s prolific publishing career includes over thirty books of poetry, critical work, collaborations and anthologies. He has long championed experimental or “post-avant” poetics..."  The Poetry Foundation

Ron Silliman has written, co-authored and edited over 30 books, most recently, Revelator from BookThug Press (which won Poetry's Levinson prize), Wharf Hypothesis from Lines Press, and upcoming Northern Soul from Shearsman Press in 2014. His poetry and criticism has been translated into 12 languages. His long poem, Ketjak, has evolved in stages rather like nested Russian dolls: the first and innermost being collected in The Age of Huts, the second in Tjanting, the third in The Alphabet. He is now at work on Universe. His anthology, In the American Tree, is still the definitive anthology of language poetry, and his collection of essays, The New Sentence, has stayed in print now for 25 years.  In 2012, Silliman was a Kelly Writers House fellow at the University of Pennsylvania.  Ron Silliman's poetry blog    The Poetry Foundation    The Academy of American Poets      Photo: Star Black


Discussion I – Line Breaks of 1947

Catastrophes disrupt and transform societies, none perhaps more baldly than war. But when we discuss the poetry of war, we tend too often to fixate on the near term & the obvious – the poets who went into battle & did not come back, the poets who turned their war experiences into literature – without seeing how the fact of catastrophe also changed everything else in society going forward. A look at how American poetry in the 1950s differed from that of the 1930s offers us a way to think about what happens when a society is turned upside down & yet still muddles on.  It’s a lesson to think about as humanity dares the biosphere not to collapse in the face of the post-industrial infestation of humankind.

Discussion 2 – Hurricanes & Butterflies: Poetry & Borders

Nowhere is there any guarantee that the 21st century will prove less bloody than the 20th. But nobody anticipated that the assassination of an Austrian Archduke at the hands of 19-year-old Gavrilo Princip would set into motion events that led not merely to the First World War, but through its aftermath to the Second as well, culminating in the death of millions, the use of atomic bombs on two urban populations and a redrawing of the maps of the world’s nations, either. 100 years later, the united Yugoslavia for which Princip took aim has already ceased to exist. Far from fixed, the map of the world continues its bloody flux, as “free” Crimea lasts for a single day, Scotland questions its relation to England, the EU wonders if it can ever be real & the ethnic warlords of Afghanistan slowly rend the nation-building efforts of a foreign occupier. In a world in which borders stop neither hurricanes nor butterflies, what does it mean precisely to be an American poet or a Mexican one, or a Kurdish, Uyghur, Basque, Tibetan, Galician or Tuareg one?  What is the role of place in poetry, and where is our place?

Discussion 3 – If Language is a Virus …

If hard copy is truth, the recent poet most likely to be read 500 or 5,000 years from now should be Ian Hamilton Finlay, who sprinkled his garden at Little Sparta with “poem objects” carved into stone. Yet even these texts are not available for viewing during the long months of the Scottish winter as they’re brought indoors to protect them from the elements. If overpopulation breeds pollution breeds climate instability breeds eco-catastrophe, then Bill Burroughs’ claim that language is a virus will have proven an accurate diagnosis. How should poets live & write in the face of a coming collapse whose arrival seems inevitable, but whose outlines appear no more certain than the consequences of Gavrilo Princip’s bullet?



Revelator from BookThug   "Like much of Silliman’s work, and perhaps even more so, Revelator is best read quickly, in a single sitting if possible.  Its value lies not in the middling to low level of attention and craft Silliman brings to bear on the individual line, but in its exuberant rush to capture a world within the confines of poetic form.  As I’ve tried to say in the course of this review, the manner in which it does so is both familiar and unprecedented within his oeuvre: if Silliman has always been interested in how poetry can hold together the otherwise irreconcilable contents of life, the disappearance of parataxis and the sentence-form from Revelator comprises a significant development in his approach to such formal reconciliation.  Where the younger Silliman cultivated discontinuity, apposition, and jerkiness, the older prefers flow and celerity.  It is as if the atomistic building-blocks of his sentence-based universe had melted and run into one another.  We can only hope that Silliman continues following through on his ambitious project so that we can see where this turn away from fragmentation and toward (fuzzy) unity leads. --Sam Rowe from full-stop

“The poet confides, describes, extols, remarks, puns, paints domestic scenes, slyly alludes, records minutiae, leaps to large statements, arouses, repeats. Through it all, a friendly, northern California sort of personality emerges.” --David Melnick, San Francisco Chronicle

Excerpt at The Poetry Foundation


Northern Soul, new from Shearsman Books