Poet Ron Silliman is probably best known not for his poetry but for theorizing “the new sentence” in 1977 and founding ‘Silliman’s Blog’ of literary commentary and reviews in 2002. To a lesser extent he is known as one of the US “Language” poets and editor of the poetry anthology In the American Tree. His “new sentence” – cogently described in 1993 by fellow Language poet Bob Perelman as a sentence that “gains its effect by being placed next to another sentence to which it has [mostly] tangential relevance” – has become part of the toolkit of avant-garde poetics across North America.
He is also the author of large continuing poems, usually published in small book installments and later collected – Tjanting (1981), The Age of Huts (2007), and The Alphabet (2008). Revelator is described by Silliman as the first part of a 360 part (360 “degree,” that is) poem “Universe” – a book that would take him, his publisher says on the back cover, “three centuries to complete.” Especially with The Alphabet and this new project, Silliman is working in that size-fascinated tradition of American poetry – Whitman and his multitudes, Pound hoping to write a poem that would salvage all essential Western culture, Olson writing in the voice of Maximus. (“My book is bigger than book,” Robert Kroetsch teased the feminist editors of A Mazing Space in 1987– correctly alluding to the phallocentrism of such size matters.) With Universe Silliman appears to have trumped (or perhaps parodied?) his predecessors, even if he has no chance of completing. He does have two more parts of Universe in press for 2014 – Northern Soul from Shearsman in Bristol, and Against Conceptual Poetry from Counterpath in Denver. But most of the parts or degrees of Universe will apparently remain just that – concepts – unless he’s able to write them in a yet unknown part of the cosmos. As the cover blurb says, “We are hopeful.”
The title of this part, Revelator, references Saint John the Revelator / John of Patmos, the presumed writer of Revelations, the last book of the New Testament. John’s warnings of an impending apocalypse have usually been given less credence than other parts the New Testament; his was the last book to be added to the canon, a hundred years after the others, no earlier than 397 AD. So in Silliman’s Universe the last has finally – pun intended – come first. Revelator’s front cover – an over-exposed flooded-with-light photo of Silliman reading in 1978 on a San Francisco street