Ron Silliman

The value of a pronoun (PoemTalk #54)

Ron Silliman, 'You'

Ron Silliman, visiting the kitchen of the Kelly Writers House, wears Phillies red.


It’s 1995. January 1. Ron Silliman, who had carefully planned this daily yearlong writing project, begins to write the first of what will be fifty-two sections of a series going under the title “You.”<--break-> He worries about the war in Chechnya, and writes a sentence on that, and about acid rain, and that gets a sentence. He remembers his dreams. He overhears intellectual coffeeshop talk. It’s cold outside.

This would be the twenty-fifth book of The Alphabet; in the Alabama edition of that major assemblage, twenty-five years in the making, “You” begins on page 903, a long way in. Fifty-two sections, one for every week of 1995, each consisting of seven daily prose paragraphs, typically one, two, or three sentences each day. You write what you see, what you overhear, what news local (floods) or world (wars) occurs to you or impresses you, what you remember, what you know or think you know during these days. In one “You” is the diary in New Sentences of a year.

Ron Silliman, 2009

“Can you curl your tongue?” from “Force”

In this 2009 publication celebration of the Alphabet, Ron Silliman reads 48 minutes of selections from across the book.

Ron Silliman
The Kelly Writers House, University of Pennsylvania, February 17, 2009
Introduction by Jessica Lowenthal
Recorded statement by Rachel Blau DuPlessis, “Silliman’s Alphabet and Poesis” (an excerpt is played at the celebration)
Introduction by Charles Bernstein
Introduction by Bob Perelman
Reading (from the Alphabet, 2008):

  • “Albany” (1979-80; pp. 1-2)
  • “Force” (1979-80; pp. 43-48)
  • from “Non” (1987-89; “In Gargoyle 32/33, Dan Beaver writes…,” pp. 356-357)
  • from “Paradise” (1984; first section, pp. 410-411; last two sections, pp. 425-431)
  • from “VOG” (circa 1985-99): “For Larry Eigner, Silent” (pp. 607-609)

The celebration begins with a deluxe set of introductions. Jessica Lowenthal notes that “Ron Silliman’s Alphabet has been in the making for three decades,” with its composition beginning in 1979 with “Force.” Rachel Blau DuPlessis argues counter-intuitively that “writing a long poem for Silliman was not a decision about length or grandeur or the sublime. It was a way of solving certain problems. The length is extraneous. Working out a problem—sentences for Silliman—was the trigger. Some length is needed to make the point.”

Bruce Andrews, Charles Bernstein, Ray DiPalma, Ron Silliman, 1981

Photo by Betsi Brandfass

Bruce Andrews, Charles Bernstein, and Ron Silliman’s tape for an unrealized transcript captures a wealth of improvisatory high-level thinking about particulars of contemporary American class structure and poetry. The result manifests a sustained thread about social formations in contemporary American poetry with strong relevance for the present. Near the end, a phone call is received from Ray DiPalma clarifying details about the group reading of their collectively authored LEGEND four days later.

Bruce Andrews, Charles Bernstein, and Ron Silliman
Bernstein’s apartment, New York City, March 6, 1981
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Ron Silliman on the archive

I re-read Ron Silliman’s June 4, 2010, blog post yesterday with renewed excitement and trepidation. He describes a personal archive of recordings of poetry readings that is remarkable (for its size and range) but also alas typical in the sense that there is no economy to support its being made available — or even for its preservation. If you read what Ron has to say here please be sure to look also at Steve Fama's comment.

Robert Duncan's notes on Ron Silliman's 'Opening'

In 1974, John Taggart asked Ron Silliman to write an essay for an issue of Maps (#6 - special Robert Duncan issue) on the work of Duncan.

On Robert Duncan, 'The Opening of the Field'


The poems in Robert Duncan’s The Opening of the Field were written between 1956 and the beginning of 1959, the final two referring to events of 1958: the publication of Louis Zukofsky’s Barely & Widely and, on October 13, the US release of Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal.

Legend: Group shot

Silliman, DiPalma, McCaffery, Bernstein, & Andrews, circa 1980

Legend 1

Lawrence Schwartzwald photos Poets House April 16, 2011

Grand Piano reading

Star Black photos at Poets House April 16, 2011

Grand Piano reading

four poets

From left to right, Frank Sherlock, Greg Djanikian, Ron Silliman and CAConrad.

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