Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 27 (Ron Silliman)

Silliman, Ron

Given to me by Joel Kuszai, when he lived in Ithaca, NY.

I drove down there one winter with Jonathan Skinner to attend a conference organized by Jane Sprague called "Small Press Culture Workers." It was one of the more meaningful and useful literary conferences I have ever attended.

Joel, as you may know, published the legendary Meow Press during his time in Buffalo. Meow published poets from all over in small runs of handmade chapbooks. I have a boxful that he published in the nineties by the likes of Silliman, Lisa Robertson, Charles Bernstein, Graham Foust and many others. I have at least one copy of this in chapbook form, possibly more, though I may have gotten rid of extras when I culled my library before leaving Buffalo.

Joel left Buffalo about a year after I arrived and eventually landed in Ithaca, where he taught for several years. Somewhere around that time he started Factory School, part of which was dedicated to continuing Joel's publishing efforts. If I am not mistaken, this was one of his first, and also one of his first using digital or on-demand printing.

It's not the only poetry book I have read by Ron Silliman, but it is, oddly, the only one that I actually own, even odder because I really like his poetry. I can remember sitting in the basement of the Segue foundation in New York, where I had access to a treasure trove of small press poetry titles from the eighties. I once read Silliman's What in a single sitting. What is part W in his long poem, The Alphabet, while Xing is part "X."

I keep meaning to buy The Alphabet, but then I hold back. Maybe I will finally buy it now that I am admitting to not owning it. Maybe I will. Yes. Maybe. I. Will.

I met Ron for the first time this past year. I'd seen him read years earlier, when I was still in grad school, but I'd never met him. After his reading we sat down in the front row on two folding chairs and talked about composing longer works. As I had begun to move in that direction myself, I was curious to ask him a few questions about how he approached the composition process.

Open Paren. I am trying, before I hit the "publish" button, to remember the content of this part of the conversation, but my mind is drawing a blank. I can't even remember the specific questions I asked. Hmm..what were they? I asked him something about whether or not he approached composition as a kind of tour de force performance act or as something more sustained. I seem to remember him answering that it was neither, exactly, that it was more of a daily focus combined with a kind of systematic formal approach to his subject matter. I may be paraphrasing or misremembering. I wish my memory functioned better. Sigh. Close paren.

I asked him the inevitable regarding this particular book:

Question: Is it pronounced "exing" or "zing" or "king" or "crossing"?

Answer: "Yes."

from Xing

By the time her son
reaches the hospital
she's died. My eye

instead of an onion.
The coffee at Lufkin's Diner,
twice boiled, burned, blue

with mold. Time of year when
you don't like to leave
your car parked all night

under the plum tree. He
Sits on his porch, his pipe
doused by rain, eating

for the sensation of loss to pass.
Happy to see her, car alarm
yips at her approach. At a 

distance, one sees birds, 
flowers, stitched into the place
curtains. The problem of

address: If I write, "at a
finger's touch, you come,"
who does the reader think

I mean? Cattle sing. High
dull sky. Before surgery,
one fasts. Themes weave.

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