Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Ron Silliman's The Age of Huts (compleat)

It almost becomes harder and harder to write about the accumulations of American poet Ron Silliman (one of the most visible online points in North America, his blog gets well over a thousand hits a day); what did poems do before Silliman's sentences? Seeing how poets such as Toronto poet Margaret Christakos twists the lines in her own texts upon themselves, or New York poet Kenneth Goldsmith pushing his endless lines both have echoes from the decades of Silliman's work, watching one step take another step take a further step. How do you read such an accumulation? Slowly, carefully, and completely, letting word pile up against word. The University of California Press has just published the collection The Age of Huts (compleat), collecting a series of shorter texts (published earlier as four individual books) as they were meant to exist, as part of a larger project. One of the original editor/publishers of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E (there are those who suggest that there are only four actual L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets, unlike the current watering-down of the phrase thrown willy-nilly, and that it would apply to Silliman and the other three that worked on the journal with him in the 1970s), an essential book would also be his The New Sentence, something I have yet to get my hands on. As Silliman writes in his preface to The Age of Huts (compleat),
Since 1974, I have been at work on a single poem, which I call Ketjak. This project in turn is composed of four works: The Age of Huts, Tjanting, The Alphabet, & Universe. With the exception of Tjanting, a book-length poem in its own right, each of these incorporated projects is itself a compilation of texts. This is the first opportunity I have had to present The Age of Huts in its complete form, a cycle of four poems with two satellite texts. In keeping with the sort of Russian-doll structure that I seem to keep reinventing, it may come as no surprise that one of the four poems in the Age of Huts cycle is itself composed of a series of poems.
The book is made up of a series of texts, including "Ketjak," "Sunset Debris," "The Chinese Notebook" (both of which appear online as pdf books at ubu editions), "2197" and two satellite texts, "Sitting Up, Standing, Taking Steps" and "BART." As Luminita Suse wrote on the ubu editions pdf edition of Ron Silliman's Sunset Debris:
Assuming that questioning is a form of expression then poems could be its distinct architectures. When is form not a distortion? Is there a final form? Is this what it is? This endeavor has its own doubts: At what point does it cease to be a poem? What are the right questions? Is this the work that rejects the reader? Sez who?
[…]
At first sight, we seem to be reading random question-like-verses. Confusion adds-up with these uncertainties: What makes you believe these words are connected, one to the other? What makes you think this is a voice? At a closer look, one discovers deliberate intentions to plunge one's mind into the lyrical dimensions of sciences, humor, medicine, erotic, philosophy, and many more.
[…]
If drivers can be car sick, then poets can they have been poetry sick for a while, when out of inspiration or too weak to play back words. Silliman offers an inquisitive context for this: Am I out of ink or breath? Is this condition called coma or comma? Are the words there before you write them?
There are accumulations, and then there are accumulations; what makes Silliman's interesting is in the way he knows just how to take it further than too far, which makes it not too far at all, but just exactly the right amount of far. What else can I tell you?

1 comment:

Ron said...

I was never an editor (nor founder) of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, but thank you for the nice words otherwise,

Ron