Ron Silliman

Ron Silliman in 2005. Photo by Jordan Davis. Licensed under Creative Commons, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Ron Silliman
Born August 5, 1946 (1946-08-05) (age 72)
Pasco, Washington
Occupation Poet
Language English
Citizenship United States American

Ron Silliman (born August 5, 1946) is an American poet, often associated with language poetry.

Life Edit

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[1] 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 (US).

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 in 1995 to Chester County, Pennsylvania, where he resides with his wife Krishna and 2 sons, Colin and Jesse. Silliman works as a market analyst in the computer industry.

Poet and critic Edit

Silliman has written and edited over 30 books, and has had his poetry and criticism translated into 12 languages.

He was 1st 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),[2] that was an early venue for Language Poetry. However, it was "The Dwelling Place," a feature of 9 poets that Silliman did for Alcheringa in 1975 that Silliman himself describes as his "first attempt to write about language poetry".[3] In 1976 & '77, he co-curated a reading series with Tom Mandel, at the Grand Piano,[4] 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 Author, 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.

Silliman was influenced by (and subsequently has written extensively on) the "New American Poetry", referring to the poets who initially appeared in Donald Allen's groundbreaking anthology, The New American Poetry, 1945-1960, which he has hailed as: "unquestionably the most influential single anthology of the last century. It’s a great book, an epoch-making one in many ways."[5]

In 1986, Silliman's anthology, In the American Tree, a foremost collection of American language poetry, was published by the National Poetry Foundation.[6]


Between 1979 and 2004, Silliman wrote a single poem, The Alphabet. He has now begun writing a new poem, Universe, the opening 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-).[7]

Silliman writes a popular and controversial weblog devoted to contemporary poetry and poetics.[8] Debuting on August 29, 2002 Silliman's Blog received its 2,000,000th visit on January 19, 2009. Less than a full year later, on November 26, 2009, it received its 2,500,000th visit.


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 a poet memorialized in Berkeley's Addison Anthology, a walk containing plaques recognizing poets and authors in his home town. Silliman was voted the Poet Laureate of the Blogosphere[9] He received the Levinson Prize from the Poetry Foundation in 2010.



  • Moon in the Seventh House. Milwaukee, WI: Gunrunner Press, 1968.
  • Three Syntactic Fictions for Dennis Schmitz. Bloodbooks, 1969.
  • Crow. Ithaca, NY: Ithaca House, 1971.
  • Mohawk. Bowling Green, OH: Doones Press, 1973.
  • Nox. Providence, RI: Burning Deck, 1974.
  • Ketjak. San Francisco, CA: THIS, 1978.
  • Sitting Up, Standing, Taking Steps.Berkeley, CA: Tuumba Press, 1978.
  • Legend (with others). New York: Language/Segue, 1980.
  • Tjanting. Berkeley, CA: The Figures, 1981.
  • Bart. Elmwood, CT: Potes & Poets Press, 1982.
  • ABC. Berkeley, CA: Tuumba Press, 1983.
  • Paradise. Providence, RI: Burning Deck, 1985.
  • The Age of Huts. New York: Roof, 1986.
  • LIT. Elmwood, CT: Potes & Poets Press, 1987.
  • What. Great Barrington, MA: The Figures, 1988.
  • Manifest. Tenerife, Canary Is., Spain: Zasterle Press, 1990.
  • Leningrad: American writers in the Soviet Union (with others). San Francisco, CA: Mercury House, 1991.
  • Toner. Elmwood, CT: Potes & Poets Press, 1992.
  • Demo to Ink. Tucson, AZ: Chax Press, 1992.
  • Jones. Mentor, OH: Generator Press, 1993.
  • N/O. New York: Roof Books, 1994.
  • Xing. Buffalo, NY: Meow Press, 1996.
  • MultiPlex (includes 2 works by Karen Mac Cormack). Wickly, Ireland: Wild Honey Press, 1998.
  • ® [pronounced "Circle R"]. New York: Drogue Press, 2000.
  • Woundwood. Buffalo, NY: Cuneiform Press, 2004.
  • The Age of Huts (compleat). Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2007.
  • The Alphabet. Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 2008.



  • A Symposium on Clark Coolidge. 1978.
  • In the American Tree: Language, realism, thought (poetry anthology). Orono, ME: National Poetry Foundation, University of Maine at Orono, 1986.
  • Unfinished Business: Twenty years of Socialist Review. London: Verso Press, 1991.
Ron Silliman reads from Revelator

Ron Silliman reads from Revelator

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy the Poetry Foundation.[10]

See alsoEdit



  1. Most recently, in June 2006, Silliman taught at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa in Boulder, Colorado
  2. available on-line at the Eclipse archive, link here: Tottel's Magazine
  3. 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". Published in 1975, the editing had been done 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"
  4. See 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 to 1979 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".
  5. Ron Silliman discusses Donald Allen’s The New American Poetry, Ron Silliman's Blog, June 11, 2007.
  6. Great Anthology: In the American Tree article from the Academy of American Poets website
  7. In September 2006, Silliman indicates he's been doing " a lot of writing, esp. on a section of Universe called "Silence and Prose" ". Silliman's Blog 05Sept06
  8. Silliman's Blog
  9. 2006 Poet Laureate of the Blogosphere.
  10. Ron Silliman b. 1946, Poetry Foundation, Web, Dec. 5, 2012.

External links Edit

Audio / video
  • Ron Silliman papers at UCSD
  • The Grand Piano website devoted to the 10 volumes of "Collective Autobiography" by 10 of the so-called "West Coast" group of Language poets, including Silliman, which began serial publication in November 2006.
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