Philadelphia Inquirer // Alphabet by Ron Silliman
Narrative implies progress, indeed. With a book like The Alphabet, as with, say, Finnegans Wake, the point isn’t to get somewhere, to complete – or in some way consume – the text, but rather to revel in the journey it provides. To enjoy the ride. While any thousand-plus-page book may at first appear daunting, reading these 26 poems will require little more concentration than staring out the window of the SEPTA R3 local on your way to work, watching the stations roll past: Wallingford, Swarthmore, Morton, Secane.
I also reviewed Silliman’s previous book for the Inky, and that got reprinted here.
Update 12/23: Silliman mentioned this review in an interview on Word Riot. Is he accusing me of plagiarism? Kind of seems like it, but I’m not sure. I’ve never read the intro he mentions:
RS: The presumption that I’m a “difficult poet.” I was pleased the other day when Andrew Ervin reviewed The Alphabet for The Philadelphia Inquirer and said reading my work was no more difficult than looking out of the window of a SEPTA train here in Philly. It’s a trope that Ervin borrowed (sans attribution I would note) from Barrett Watten’s original introduction to Tjanting in 1981, when Watten argued that a “bus ride is better than most art.” It’s good to see that some people are getting it, that you can just read what’s there and that will tell you everything you need to know about my work.
I’m reminded of this 7/17/66 letter to the New York Times Book Review:
To the Editor:
In a recent letter to the editor, Romain Gary asserts that I took the name “Genghis Cohen” from a novel of his to use in a novel of mine, The Crying of Lot 49. Mr. Gary is totally in error. I took the name Genghis Cohen from the name of Genghis Khan (1162-1227), the well-known Mongol warrior and statesman. If Mr. Gary really believes himself to be the only writer at present able to arrive at a play on words this trivial, that is another problem entirely, perhaps more psychiatric than literary, and I certainly hope he works it out.
New York City.
Update 12/24: Silliman made this nice comment on his blog:
Ervin dropped me a note when this appeared on the Word Riot site to say that he had not seen the 1981 edition of Tjanting & had come upon the transit trope independently. Given how long that edition was out of print before Salt reissued the book in 2002 (with a different Watten introduction taken from the early drafts of The Grand Piano), Ervin’s correction makes sense. I am intrigued – and pleased – by the parallel, given that they’re descriptions of different books more than a quarter century apart. Hopefully one could say of both, as Watten concluded his first intro to Tjanting, “It is possible, in fact, to read this book on the bus.”