Ron Silliman

Ivor Griffiths, Poet, Novelist & Short Story Writer

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Ron Silliman (born August 5, 1946 in Pasco, Washington) is a contemporary American poet. He has written and edited 26 books to date. Between 1979 & 2004, Silliman wrote a single poem, entitled The Alphabet. He has now begun writing a new poem entitled Universe, the first section of which appears to be called Revelator.

Silliman sees his poetry as being part of a single poem or lifework, which he calls Ketjak. Ketjak is also the name of the first poem of The Age of Huts. If and when completed, the entire work will consist of The Age of Huts (1974-1980), Tjanting (1979-1981), The Alphabet (1979-2004), and Universe (2005- ).[1]

Ron Silliman's fame and notoriety have grown considerably since 2002, due in large part to his popular and controversial weblog: Silliman's Blog. Debuting on August 22, 2002 to little fanfare and without expectations of an audience, it is now (arguably) the most influential English-language blog on the web that is devoted to contemporary poetry and poetics. By August 2006, Silliman's Blog had reached 800,000 hits. By early November 2006, Silliman's Blog had welcomed its 900,000th visitor[2]. In early February 2007, Silliman's Blog had surpassed 1,000,000 hits.


  • 1 Life
  • 2 Language Poetry and Critical Writing
  • 3 Works
  • 4 External links
  • 5 Notes


In the 1960s, Silliman attended Merritt College, San Francisco State University and the University of California, Berkeley, but left without attaining a degree. He has subsequently taught in the Graduate Writing Program at San Francisco State University, at the University of California at San Diego, at New College of California and, in shorter stints, at Naropa University[3] and Brown University.

Silliman has worked as a political organizer, a lobbyist, an ethnographer, a newspaper editor, a director of development, and as the executive editor of the Socialist Review. While in San Francisco, he served on numerous community boards including the 1980 Census Oversight Committee, the Arson Task Force of the San Francisco Fire Department, and the State Department of Health's Task Force on Health Conditions in Locale Detention Facilities. After living in the San Francisco Bay Area for over 40 years, Silliman moved to Chester County, Pennsylvania in 1995 where he resides with his wife Krishna and two sons, Colin and Jesse. Silliman works as a market analyst in the computer industry.

Silliman was a 2003 Literary fellow of the National Endowment for the Arts & a 2002 Fellow of the Pennsylvania Arts Council as well as a Pew Fellow in the Arts in 1998. Silliman is one of the poets memorialized in Berkeley's Addison Anthology, a walk containing plaques recognizing poets and authors in his home town.

Language Poetry and Critical Writing

While Silliman has come to be associated with the Language poets, he came of age under the sign of Donald Allen's New American Poetry (1960) [4]. Silliman was first published in Berkeley, in 1965. In the 1960s he was published by journals associated with what he calls the School of Quietude, such as Poetry Northwest, TriQuarterly, Southern Review and Poetry. Silliman found such early acceptance to be a sign of the lack of standards or rigor characteristic of that literary tendency and began looking for alternatives.

Silliman edited a newsletter, Tottels (1970-81)[5], that was one of the early venues for Language Poetry. However, it was "The Dwelling Place," a feature of nine poets that Silliman did for Alcheringa in 1975 that Silliman himself describes as his "first attempt to write about language poetry". [6] In 1976 & '77, he co-curated a reading series with Tom Mandel, at the Grand Piano[7], a coffee house in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury, continuing a series originally founded by Barrett Watten. This series was followed by one at the Tassajara Bakery, co-curated with Bob Perelman, and a series combining poets with performance artists at The Farm, co-curated with Jill Scott.

Silliman's mature critical writing dates to the early/mid-1970s when he was asked to discuss his thinking about the role of reference in poetry, leading to the essay "Disappearance of the Word, Appearance of the World," which first appeared in the journal Art Con. Soon thereafter he edited a special issue of the magazine Margins devoted to the work of poet Clark Coolidge and began to give talks and contribute essays on a regular basis thereafter. As was mentioned above, Silliman was influenced by (and subsequently has written extensively on) the "New American Poetry", referring to the poets who first appeared in Donald Allen's groundbreaking anthology The New American Poetry 1945-1960. Today, those same (but then relatively unknown) poets included in this anthology are now recognizable or precedent figures in the current cultural landscape.

As a result of his critical work since the 1970's, several of the concepts introduced by Silliman, such as The New Sentence, the School of Quietude and post-avant have become widely used. [8].In 1986, Silliman's anthology In the American Tree, one of the foremost collections of American language poetry, was published by the National Poetry Foundation[9].


  • Crow (1971)
  • Mohawk ( 1973)
  • Nox (1974)
  • Ketjak (San Francisco: This Press, 1978)
  • Sitting Up, Standing, Taking Steps (1978)
  • Legend ( 1980, with Bruce Andrews, Charles Bernstein, Ray DiPalma, Steve McCaffery)
  • Tjanting (1981; new edition from Salt Publishing, 2002)
  • BART (1982)
  • ABC (1983)
  • Paradise (1985)
  • The Age of Huts (1986)
  • In the American Tree: Language, Realism, Thought (National Poetry Foundation, 1986; second edition, 2001: anthology)
  • Lit ( 1987)
  • The New Sentence ( 1987, criticism)
  • What (1988)
  • Manifest (1990)
  • Leningrad (1991, with Michael Davidson, Lyn Hejinian, Barrett Watten)
  • Demo to Ink (1992)
  • Toner (1992)
  • Jones (1993)
  • N/O (1994)
  • Xing (1996)
  • MultiPlex (1998, with Karen Mac Cormack)
  • ® (1999)
  • Sunset Debris (2002, ebook)
  • 2197 (2004, ebook)
  • Woundwood (2004)
  • Under Albany (Salt Publishing, 2004: memoir)
  • The Chinese Notebook (2004, ebook)
  • (contributor)The Grand Piano: An Experiment In Collective Autobiography (with Bob Perelman, Barrett Watten, Steve Benson, Carla Harryman, Tom Mandel, Rae Armantrout, Kit Robinson, Lyn Hejinian, and Ted Pearson) (Mode A/This Press, 2007: ISBN 978-0-9790198-0-X)
  • The Age of Huts (compleat) (University of California Press, 2007)
  • The Alphabet (forthcoming, University of Alabama Press, 2008)[10]
  • Ron Silliman page at Modern American Poetry with online poems, articles, interviews
  • Silliman's Blog A weblog focused on contemporary poetry and poetics.
  • Silliman at UbuWEB, online books
  • Interview with The Argotist Online
  • "Torque" & The New Sentence Silliman discusses background & conception of his influential "manifesto" The New Sentence
  • Ron Silliman, making poetry, unmaking rules review of The Age of Huts (compleat) by Andrew Ervin, at, June 24, 2007
  • Notes

    1. ^ In September 2006, Silliman indicates he's been doing " a lot of writing, esp. on a section of Universe called "Silence and Prose" ". link here~>Silliman's Blog 05Sept06
    2. ^ In his blog entry for Saturday, November 04, 2006 link here Silliman takes note of the following statistics: "In 2002-03, it took 50 weeks to get the first 50,000 visits. The last 100,000 came in just 14 (weeks)".
    3. ^ Most recently, in June 2006, Silliman taught at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa in Boulder, Colorado
    4. ^ Ron Silliman discusses Donald Allen’s The New American Poetry from Silliman's Blog: June 11, 2007. Writes Silliman: "unquestionably the most influential single anthology of the last century. It’s a great book, an epoch-making one in many ways."
    5. ^ available on-line at the Eclipse archive, link here: Tottel's Magazine
    6. ^ Silliman's Blog: weblog entry for Tuesday, October 31, 2006 Silliman writes that "my afterword to that selection, “Surprised by Sign: Notes on Nine,” was my first attempt to write about language poetry". Though published in 1975, he did the editing for Alcheringa in 1973: "The nine poets included Bruce Andrews, Barbara Baracks, Clark Coolidge, visual poet Lee DeJasu, Ray Di Palma, Robert Grenier, David Melnick, Barrett Watten & your humble correspondent"
    7. ^ Of further interest would be the publication in 2006 of the first volume of The Grand Piano: An Experiment in Collective Autobiography. (Detroit, MI: Mode A/This Press, 2006. ISBN 978-0-9790198-0-X) -- this work is described as an ongoing experiment in collective autobiography by ten writers identified with Language poetry in San Francisco. The project will consist of 10 volumes in all. Along with Silliman, the other 9 writers are: Bob Perelman, Barrett Watten, Steve Benson, Carla Harryman, Tom Mandel, Kit Robinson, Lyn Hejinian, Rae Armantrout, and Ted Pearson. This book further describes itself as follows:
      It takes its name from a coffeehouse at 1607 Haight Street, where from 1976-79 the authors took part in a reading and performance series. The writing project, begun in 1998, was undertaken as an online collaboration, first via an interactive web site and later through a listserv
    8. ^ But also as a result of the impact of his influential weblog
    9. ^ Great Anthology: In the American Tree article from the Academy of American Poets website
    10. ^ Silliman reveals publication on his blog
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