Ron Silliman in Ottawa, March 10, 2012, Gallery 101

by Luminita Suse

On March 10, AB Series featured Ron Silliman in an workshop and artist talk and later that day, for an amazing reading. I was among the privileged to listen to a great contemporary poet. His work wasn't new to me. In 2007, I read his Sunset Debris and wrote the following essay and poem.

Ron Silliman: Sunset Debris. Interrogation as a form of poetry.

Poetry should not offer answers. I’ve heard this many times. Now, imagine the space where all unanswered questions stack by sunset. Why not access this residue and write a seminal poem as long as a book? This is Ron Silliman’s idea of seeding tomorrow with verses by collecting today’s expired questions.

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? Says who?

Silliman randomly arranges questions in a queue and labels it “poem”. Some see innovation where others think of the unusual. Flexibility is the key to assimilating such style changes. Are you loyal to a form? Why would you? And if you feel manipulated and left without any option but to follow the new trends in poetry then you may want to consider this: When does a question become a command?

After all, everything is a matter of awareness: Does the sameness of winter get to you? leading to the freedom of choice. This is how one can fight the idea of social coercion: Is personal liberation possible without a social dimension? and the inevitable future a.k.a. destiny. Take Silliman’s advice and choose wise, to escape the patterns of ignorance and stupidity: Isn’t life a series of cycles, bordered by the same mistake over and over?

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.

Let’s start with the existential aspects: Can you prove that you exist? Is your body your self? What is the outer edge of ego? What would it be like to be whole? Can you separate the inner from the outer? High density of dilemmas with every square word: Where does morning begin? Is the act distinct from the object? How can we know what we speak of?

Erotic dimensions more or less humorous: Is there an erotic element to picking your nose? What is that attracts you to bisexual women? Did professional sex force her to alter emotions? Do freckles make the back of one’s hand more attractive?

And speaking of humor: Have the roaches made a nest in the radio? Do you know which insect you most resemble? What do you think of when I say “red goose shoes”? Did you ever smoke a banana? Why do elephants wear pink tennis shoes? Do you realize that if flamingo don’t eat carrots their colors will fade?

If drivers can be car sick, then poets can say 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? With all the hitech devices to handle information and assistance in the art of creation, written words (as in calligraphed on paper) became displayed (sketched on screen) words. There are pros and cons for this new ways of conveying information. Compared to carving cuneiforms on stone, writing on paper was an evolution. As I said earlier, it is a matter of awareness and choice. Do you intend to draw words instead of write them? Does the ink smear?

Forms and their limits and limitations are one of Ron Silliman’s main concerns. When is the question a form of order? What are the limits of large? Isn’t chaos also a form? Is it a distraction to be aware of the walls? Freudian questionnaire is interspersed in the book: Does pleonasm scare you? Does fear have a structure? Did you despise yourself as a child? Other concerns are of growth and self realization: Are you now at that point that when you cut you scar? Have you at least reached the age when almost any cut commands a scar? When is you I?

When and to what extent should the ordinary manifest in poetry? What is poetic in questions about geography: Is this the capital of Montana? What are the cities of South Dakota? Medicine: Is there evidence of tardive dyskinesia? Economy: What is the true process of capital accumulation? The borderline between mundane and poetry is unsettled, fragile and poetically confusing: Where is the border between blue and green? Why does blue fade into green?

Rarely does one feel the breath of the figures of speech in Silliman’s book: Could you feel the quiet settle in? Can you see your own breath? Don’t you like the way the fog slices between the hills down into the neighborhood? Most of the time is the mundane sensorial: Do you pronounce the t in often? How do you like it? Can you feel it? Can’t you smell the rain before it falls?

Rummaging through the sunset debris is mostly a play of questions instead of words: Is this airight? Is the language neutral? Do you sense a stasis? Surrealistic, at times: Why is the guitar in the fireplace? Does the sound of traffic approximate water? What did the tree say?Doubt and anxiety is omnipresent in Ron Silliman’s book: Is poetry sound? Is it legible? Is not that we simply seduce ourselves? Not to forget lucidity: What if the questions cease?

glove at first sight Ron Silliman at last grasp
Does poetry open or close doors?

seminal sunset debris lined up in potential
book of the dread
that of which we should not think nor expect
to get resolutions from
poetry only questions doubts will set you free

eyes rummage through quandaries stases of speech
interrogative opens doors by slamming
doors shove doors yield to the illegible pollution
of unknowns

answers are dangerous better hide in subterfuges
for challenged fingers sillimanicly brailling
the winter of our verbose discontent

the quest for morning glory could have been glove
but it’s over now

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