Tag Archives: Ron Silliman

Ron Silliman and Rae Armantrout Reading Together – San Diego/New York

One of the benefits of attending UCSD is that the reading series there is not the usual academic menu. I remember in particular readings by Rae Armantrout, Ron Padgett, Dennis Cooper, Edwin Torres, Elizabeth Alexander, Mary Jo Bang, Michael Heller, Kit Robinson, and Barrett Watten. Paul Naylor. I recollect, read a series of poems he had been working on about flowers and gardens, which he had started in the summer of 2001. There were daily entries, and when he got to September 11, the poem was very brief.

“There will never be enough flowers.”

I remember the sense of quiet beneath some ultimate quiet slithering through the room, then twanging like that distant string in one of Chekhov’s plays.

On another occasion, in San Diego, Ron Silliman and Rae Armantrout read together, though I remember the reading having Ron as the featured poet and he invited Rae to read a piece they had collaborated on. Joseph Ross gave the introduction, and then sat down in the front row next to the poet Stephen Cope, who would go on to edit a volume of George Oppen’s writings. I’m not sure if Ron’s blog had even started at this point, and Rae was still working as an adjunct professor at UCSD. I would have the good fortune to be her T.A. for one quarter before I graduated in 2004. All three of our lives have changed considerably since the evening of that reading.

I was inspired, in part, to run these photographs in my blog because I noticed recently that Ron and Rae are reading in New York in two months.


Thursday. October 18 7:00pm – 9:00pm
Rae Armantrout and Ron Silliman
Lillian Vernon Creative Writers House
58 W 10th Street, New York, NY

If you’re in the vicinity, and you’re old enough to realize that many poets younger than you might need a little reminder in the midst of their whirligig lives, then do the right thing, and make certain they don’t neglect this chance to hear two of America’s finest poets.

Ron-Rae-Joe Ross






The Papa Bach T-shirt Jaunt

July 2, 2017


At some point between late 1971 and 1980, I bought a Papa Bach t-shirt and wore it to readings and while I was teaching in the Poets-in-the-Schools programs. In the summer of 1981, I drove up to Eureka, California with Cathay Gleeson to visit an old friend of hers, Karin. It was my first jaunt that far north in California, and details of that trip appeared in a long poem I was working on at the time, “Your Move.” It wasn’t the first long poem I had attempted. In 1973, I had worked on a long poem entitled “The Resurrection,” parts of which had been published in The Lamp in the Spine (edited by Jim Moore and Patricia Hampl) and Intermedia (edited by Harley Lond). “Your Move” was influenced by my reading at the start of that decade of poets such as Kit Robinson, Ron Silliman, Lyn Hejinian, Rae Armantrout, and Barrett Watten. It quickly went beyond just reading of their work. Conversations with Ron when he came down to Los Angeles and a talk and reading at Beyond Baroque continued once we had left that venue, for he stayed over on that trip at my apartment in Ocean Park.


Cathay and I spent a week up in the Eureka-Arcata area, and I commissioned Karin’s friend, Jim McVicker, to paint a portrait of me, for which I chose to wear the Papa Bach t-shirt, the same one I was wearing when I was photographed teaching a poetry class in Lone Pine, California. This particular classroom photograph brings back a set of contradictory memories, since working with CPITS was a problematic enterprise. The time spent in Lone Pine, however, remains one of my fondest occasions of working with other poets. Kit Robinson was there, too, and he mentions the gathering in the Grand Piano volumes as one in which he felt out of place. He probably didn’t realize how many of us didn’t feel quite at ease with each other, but our devotion to inspiring the students superseded the disparities in our poetics. I remain grateful to Eva Poole-Gibson for all she did to orchestrate two consecutive years in which poets from all over the state gathered in Inyo County to celebrate the joy of language surprising us when we least expect it.

CPITS Brochure - PB

Mike Sonksen’s review of “CROSS-STROKES”

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Lana Turner, issue number 9
“A Reunion Party of Sorts,” by Mike Sonksen – January 16, 2017

Lana Turner Journal has just published Mike Sonksen’s comprehensive review of Cross-Strokes: Poetry between Los Angeles and San Francisco, the anthology which Neeli Cherkovski and I devoted half a decade to co-editing. Sonksen meticulously acknowledges every contributor to the anthology and provides representative sample of their poems. In a way that I am sure he is not aware of, he has followed the instructions on the permissions form that we had to negotiate with New Directions. No poet was to get a larger billing in any advertisement we would take out. This is to say that we were not allowed to promote the book by putting Kenneth Rexroth’s and Nate Mackey’s names in big type and Kevin Opstedal and Sharon Doubiago in small type. Not that Neeli and I would have ever done otherwise!

The next reviewer should have a much easier task, should she or he be willing to “collaborate” with Mike the Poet, as Sonksen is also known as. This is to say that a follow-up review might well benefit from focusing on a comparison of Cross-Strokes with other “regional” anthologies, including those that do not acknowledge themselves as such. It always amuses me to see anthologies that assume they present a national survey of American poetry, but have far less than ten percent of their contributors based in California.

Here is the link to Mike Sonksen’s review:

One very gratifying aspect of the roster of poets Cherkovski and I were able to assemble was their compatibility. If one were to try to put together a chronological anthology, the task might prove to be overwhelming. Consider trying to assemble a volume of poets born in the 1940s, a project that would probably fracture almost at the onset as poets or their executors point-blank rebuffed being associated by juxtaposition with figures inimical to their hopes for the art. Such an anthology, however, is probably needed if one is to understand how “post-modernism” pushed away from the massive influence of Donald Allen’s anthology, The New American Poetry. Maybe the most important part of this potential anthology would be not the poems, but essays at the end in which the poets address their “generation(s)” within that decade’s outset. The time to begin requesting these essays is the next four years, while the surviving remnant of American poets born in the 1940s will still be fairly substantial. This will not hold up indefinitely; after all, we were forced to pause and consider the inexorable attrition of our ranks this past year with the deaths of two poets, Ted Greenwald and Ray DiPalma, who first appeared together in an anthology back in 1985. In many ways, that year marked a turning point in American poetry. Three major anthologies appeared in 1985: In the American Tree, edited by Ron Silliman; “Poetry Loves Poetry,” edited by Bill Mohr; and The Morrow Anthology of Younger American Poets, edited by David Bottoms and David Smith. The Morrow Anthology represented the first indication of the rapid growth of MFA programs in the United States since 1980, while Silliman’s and my anthologies presented a case for writing that centered itself on other questions of poetry’s social value other than academic legitimacy.

I did not ever meet Ray DiPalma, though I certainly remember the first anthology in which I saw his work: Quickly Aging Here, edited by Geoff Hewitt. DiPalma appeared frequently in Invisible City magazine, edited by Paul Vangelisti and John McBride, and continued to be published by Vangelisti throughout the rest of his life. One of DiPalma’s other long-time supporters and allies was Michael Lally, who has posted his recollections on his blog, “Lally’s Alley.” According to Lally, there will be a memorial for DiPalma on Wednesday, February 15, at the School of Visual Arts Gallery from 6 – 8 p.m. (601 West 26th Street).

I heard Ted Greenwald read several times over the decades. The first time was at a bookstore called Intellectuals & Liars, which was located near the corner of 11th Street and Wilshire Boulevard in Santa Monica. It was an odd pairing: he read with Kate Braverman, who left the reading grumbling about Greenwald’s lack of personal narrative. Although I had published Kate’s first book, Milk Run, a couple of years earlier and was very pleased that she went to become a successful novelist, I was more impressed and intrigued that night with Greenwald’s work, and I was excited when he read in Los Angeles again, at Beyond Baroque, shortly after Dennis Cooper took over the reading series. It was a quarter century before I saw read again, at St. Mark’s with Lyn Hejinian. He was as on key as ever, and his “voice” (which almost always seems like an illusory concept to me) was as pitch-perfect to his vision as it had been when I first heard it.

That I am hardly alone in my profound admiration for Greenwald’s poetry was reflected in the line-up of poets who spoke at his memorial service at St. Mark’s Poetry Project back on September 16, which included Alan Bernheimer, Charles Bernstein, Alan Davies, John Godfrey, Erica Hunt, Michael Lally, Ron Padgett, Kit Robinson, Patricia Spears Jones, Stacy Szymaszek, Chris Tysh, Lewis Warsh, Barrett Watten, and Terence Winch

Double Bill: “The First Monday in May”; Lynn McGee Interview by Elaine Sexton

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Linda and I recently watched “The First Monday in May,” a very fine documentary film on the intersection of the fashion world and “high art.” The title refers to one of the few days that the Metropolitan Museum of Art is closed to the public; it is hardly empty space, though. The museum hosts a major annual fundraiser on that day, which in the case of this particular film featured an exhibit about the confluence of Chinese fashion on the Western world. I confess that I have never been able to whip up much enthusiasm for fashion or to understand how couture could be an equivalent for literary consciousness. From a very early age, it was clear to me that economic privilege permitted one layer of society to deploy fashion as a way to make those who did not possess any physically attractive features even more marginal and disregarded. It was a way of spitting on another person’s soul.

With the exception of Ron Silliman and his commentary on Project Runway, I have known very few writers or artists who were interested in fashion. After watching “The First Monday in May,” however, I have had a tiny awakening. The challenge of assembling the exhibit and staging the fundraiser proved to be an intense viewing experience. I had to stop it after an hour, in fact. Linda and I felt pulled into the vortex of each moment’s refulgent intentionality: nothing was done outside of a devotion to the exquisiteness of each moment’s possibility. The material and the immaterial embraced each other with complete commitment to the future’s need for present tense rarity. Even if you loathe the idea of fashion more than I did, I urge you to watch this film. It was pure succor.

Poetry remains my primary interest, however, in keeping this blog in motion. I regret that I can’t review as many books as I would like to, but will get to some of them in the next couple of months. Others will just have to wait until next year. In the meantime, I want to post an interview featuring Lynn McGee, one of the poets I have been able to review in recent months (May 11, 2016).

A Conversation Between Poets: Lynn McGee and Elaine Sexton on Loss and Love

A Conversation Between Poets: Lynn McGee and Elaine Sexton on Loss and Love
by Elaine Sexton
October 4, 2016

Should the conversation make you curious about Lynn’s earlier poetry, here is a reading she did on a public access television show I did called “Put Your Ears On”: