Poetry (it seems) is Ron Silliman’s life. He started publishing poetry in his early twenties, at first in mainstream journals like Poetry Northwest and TriQuarterly but moved away from this kind of poetry fairly soon. Today he is probably one of the most influential figure in contemporary poetics (at least according to the Poetry Foundation) and an important part of the original group of language poets. I could write whole paragraphs about him and his amazing work which encompasses more than 30 books of poetry, critical work, collaborations and anthologies and includes ground-breaking ideas like the “new sentence”. Since the 1970s he has been working on one complex piece of work entitled Ketjak which is made up of a series of individual books: The Age of Huts (1974-1980), Tjanting (1979-1981), The Alphabet (1979-2004), and Universe (2005-present). Each of these books makes use of a slightly different procedure, so e.g. Tjanting is written according to the Fibonacci number sequence, whereas The Alphabet represents a long book made of smaller books, each of which focuses on a different letter of the alphabet. I highly recommend reading the biography on the Poetry Foundation website to get even a glimpse of the amplitude of his work.
I am personally a big fan of language poetry and love playing around with writing procedures and rigid constraints. I am with the essayist Hank Lazer who once noted that language poetry is “following upon the most adventurous work of Gertrude Stein, Louis Zukofsky, William Carlos Williams and Jack Spicer.” Who would say no to adventures like that?
Following Ron Silliman’s procedure of Tjanting, I also chose a number sequence to determine the number of sentences in each paragraph. In my case this number sequence is 5-smooth (aka regular numbers), a numbers sequence which also appears in music theory in the just intonation of the diatonic scale. See below for the result.
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After Ron Silliman
Cool and caring sweet on a late night bar stool. She smiled.
Smooth over what matters. It was compelling. The gleam caught in the brass yellow light shivering like a hot tune.
No, no, no. The definite certainty over little flicks as he drew it to his mouth. Singing. Sweet sweet sugar baby in the murky tea.
Dancing like a rain cloud. A land of just. The pitches in a single octave of this scale along rising steady as she. She shoe off caught by. A blue in green.
This could be a tune if anyone cared to blow it. This could be certainly certainty. Cool as caring in a long way past the bottom of a high bowl. Don’t look at me that way. She said. She keep them on the whole time while it trickled down her spine.
Don’t mingle. Stay sweet. Don’t be hasty with the burning iron. In the corner of the room the lights drew to a close softly like the blues. Track listing evenly divide powers of sixty, for example like the k-smooth. It was sticking to the drum beat counterhoop clockwise. The brushes on the skin like white sand through an hourglass. She kept it slow.
A filing cabinet with the dirty sleeves. Three fingers of scotch and a roll of mints. On the bar it was getting later every minute. Silver sheen in the dim before he went. It was a push and a pull and sticky chewy saxophone. It was driving everybody to the corners of the night. This isn’t a story. So what if this isn’t a plot. She shoe off caught by in the rain.
Black keys stroking something heavy behind the backstage door. Something sensually compelling behind the brass wood. She drew the stool an inch closer smelling sweetly. She said. Little matters most. An American song book lay open beside a bottle of red and a handkerchief. Rings of red and Jupiter. Which might be the solution – a regular number. A caller disconnected, resolved in aspirin. A simple tune filled the sky.
She shoe off caught by sense of midnight. The laces around her thighs. My heavy breath so no no. So what. So better gin, no hesitation. He held a feeble note in sweaty palms. Bright light she waited, playing jukebox. A dime thrown through an algorithm into something white. A blue in green. A sudden shudder. A tune changed numbers in a certain way. A strange fix and kind of blue.