Prominent Poet, essayist, and literary critic, best known as a member of the group of avant garde poets of the Language (or L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E) group, who broke the most ground in in the 1970s and 80s, but who are still writing, and well, today.
Silliman most often works in the form of the long prose poem -- although it should be noted that the prose poem that Silliman and other Language poets have developed is different from, if indebted to, the classic French prose poems of the early twentieth century. Having only read Tjanting, I couldn't give a nice glib summary of his poetics just yet, but I will mention some of the things that seem to interest him:
- Patterns and mechanical generation. Ketjak and Tjanting, and possibly others of Silliman's poems, adhere to very rigid formal structures based on "sentences" rather than the traditional lines or stanzas.
- Repetition and deformations of language based on sound. Silliman likes to use what I've heard Lyn Hejinian refer to as "bad puns," for instance, "Wait, watchers" (Tjanting 17), a play on "Weight Watchers." Repeated sentences often mutate into entirely new ideas. For instance, in Tjanting,
“In paradise plane wrecks are distributed evenly throughout the desert.” becomes
“In paradise plain rocks are distributed evenly throughout the desert.” and eventually turns into
“Impaird eyes, desert rocks are attributed evenly throughout the pain.”
- Marxism. Silliman is interested in class warfare and the idea of distribution under capital.
Born on August 5, 1946, just hours before the United States bombed Hiroshima, to a working-class family, Silliman has written 26 books to date, and has also been a prolific contributor to periodicals and anthologies.
The most important of Ron Silliman's books are listed below. Most of the hardlinks don't go anywhere yet, since E2 is, for some reason, shockingly low on contemporary poetry writeups. Of the books below, probably the best known are Tjanting, The New Sentence, In the American Tree, and Xing.
- Ketjak, 1978
- This Press, San Francisco, California. Book-length poem.
- Tjanting, 1981
- The Figures, Berkeley, California; reprinted by Salt, Cambridge, UK / Applecross, Western Australia in 2002. Also a book-length poem.
- The Age of Huts, 1986
- Roof Books, New York
- In the American Tree, 1986
- National Poetry Foundation, Orono, Maine. A second edition was published in 2002. This important poetry anthology edited by Silliman contains work by Robert Grenier, Barrett Watten, Lyn Hejinian, Bob Perelman, Michael Palmer, Charles Bernstein, Susan Howe, and Bernadette Mayer, among others.
- The New Sentence, 1987
- Roof Books, New York. This is an influential book of theory and criticism.
- Under Albany, 2004
- Salt. Memoir.
- The Alphabet
- Silliman has been working on this long poem of Cantos proportions since 1979. The following published volumes belong to The Alphabet:
- ABC, 1983
- Tuumba Press, Berkeley, CA
- Demo to Ink, 1992
- Chax Press, Tucson, Arizona
- Jones, 1993
- Generator Press, Mentor, Ohio
- Lit, 1987
- Potes & Poets Press, Hartford, Connecticut
- Manifest, 1990
- Zasterle Press, Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain
- Roof Press
- Paradise, 1985
- Burning Deck, Providence, Rhode Island; winner of the 1985 Poetry Center Book Award.
- ®, 1999
- Drogue Press, New York
- Toner, 1992
- Potes & Poets Press, E. Hartford, CT
- What, 1988
- The Figures, Great Barrington, Massachusetts
- Xing, 1996
- Meow Press, Buffalo, New York; reprinted by Factory School Books, Ithaca, New York, in 2004.
You'll notice that most of the publishers listed are small presses
, often presses you've never heard of. Silliman, like many contemporary poets, and especially Language poets, is committed to small presses and believes that they play an important role in bringing new poetry to light. Most of these presses are accessible through Small Press Distribution
, www.spdbooks.org, or through the individual publisher.
Silliman has also maintained a very active blog since 2002, located at http://ronsilliman.blogspot.com. His posts can range over a variety of topics, but they most often focus on contemporary poetry, poetics, and culture.
He lives in Chester County, Pennsylvania with his wife, Krishna Evans, and their two sons. Unlike many prominent contemporary poets, Silliman is not a university professor; in addition to being a prolific writer, he is a market analyst in the computer industry.
- Silliman, Ron. Silliman's Blog. http://ronsilliman.blogspot.com
- Silliman, Ron. Tjanting. 1981; Cambridge, UK: Salt, 2002.
- Silliman, Ron, ed. In the American Tree: Language, Realism, Poetry. 1986; Orono, ME: National Poetry Foundation, 2002.
- "Ron Silliman Bibliography." http://wings.buffalo.edu/epc/authors/silliman/pub.html