Skip to main content

Lineation: Silliman’s New Sentence part one

The line only exists in relation to the before and after (Silliman, Tjanting 93)

Lines insert false time (Ibid. 86)

This is another sentence. Space is the same in all directions (Ibid. 82)

Margin types its own form. Each sentence is a test (Ibid. 82)

Earlier sentences, our old friend. (Ibid. 82)

The space was the last letter of the alphabet to be invented (Ibid. 90-1)


This flurry of comments on the nature of the relationship between line and space comes from Ron Sillimans long prose poem Tjanting (1981, re-issued Salt 2002). This work consists of a number of paragraphs each with a strictly limited number of sentences based on the Fibonacci sequence where the next number in a sequence is derived from the sum of the previous two numbers.

The poem is an example of what Silliman calls the new sentence, see his essay of the same name. The aims of the new sentence are a major challenge to the semiotics of lineation as I have been considering them over the last couple of months. The first aim is to make the sentence, not the line, the basic unit of the poem, which has the effect of dematerialising the poem, by which we mean it removes the semiotic materiality of the line-break so fundametnal to poetic practice.

In addition, it aims to limit and control the syllogistic process of prose which operates in the same way as the fibonacci sequence: you add together two propositions and from these attain a third which is conclusive of the other two. The only syllogistic movement allowed is between a sentence and its preceeding sentence, thus you are caught permanently in the horizontal seriality of this prose, ubale to step back and think in general. This last point limits the vertical movement brought about by line breaks, titles, and the poem end essential to poetics. Finally, the sentence is taken as a basic unit, primarily because it is the liminal space between the maximal unit of linguistic consideration, the phrase, and the minimal level of humanistic consideration, emotion or discourse. The sentence is too big for linguists and two small for the rest of us.

The new sentence aims to limit the scope of regard to two or three sentences at most, suggesting that “meaning” be resricted to this level and produce by torquing which means that equivalence comes not from the selection of words but from their combination, in other words meaning comes not from a decision made before the text, but from a spatial relationship established in the text. Sometimes I call this the hermenutic guarantee, that if you place two words or phrases together within a structure that presupposes relationship, for example close proximity, then relation and meaning will be generated. Silliman notes how the line break was the primary tool for torquing within poetry, and how in the new sentence it now exists between the full stop of one sentence and the next capital letter of the other.
1 comment

Popular posts from this blog

John Ashbery, Some Trees

John Ashbery, Some Trees
(New York: Corinth Books, 1970)
Originally published (New York: 1956)


Close Readings and annotations of every poem in the collection March-April 1997 in preparation for In the Process of Poetry: The New York School and the Avant-Garde (Bucknell UP, 2001) currently in the process of complete update (2013)


"Two Scenes," 9

This is a poem about duality so in this sense the title actually refers to what the poem is ‘about’. John Shoptaw notes, for example, the phonic mirroring of the poem which he sees as an element later phased out as is the “linear introversion” to be found here. Thus we have the following phonic recurrences: “we see us as we”; “Destiny...destiny”; “News...noise”; “...hair/Air”; “-y” and rhymes of section 2; and “...old man/...paint cans”.


This simple but subtle semiotic device is then developed structurally as well, as the title hints. So ‘scene’ 2 reflects back internally onto ‘scene’ 1. “Machinery” recalls the train as does the canal; g…

John Ashbery, Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror

John Ashbery, Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror
(Manchester: Carcanet, 1977)
First Published (New York: Viking, 1975)

Close Readings and annotations of every poem in the collection March-April 1997 in preparation for In the Process of Poetry: The New York School and the Avant-Garde (Bucknell UP, 2001)


Introduction:

· Shoptaw notes that this return to poetry is dominated by images of waiting, that narrative (especially fairy-tale) returns, as do the musically based titles, there are no prose poems and no fixed forms such as sonnets of pantoums, most are free verse paragraphs, also bring forward a new American speech, more direct and inclusive.



“As One Put Drunk into a Packet-Boat”, 1-2

· Shoptaw notes this was the original title for the collection, marking a self-consciously Romantic return to poetry, recording the thoughts of “I” from afternoon to night, just outside a childhood country home. Has a pastoral crisis narrative in that a summer storm gathers but passes leaving the poet relieved i…

The Grenfell Tower Murders

The 72 victims of Grenfell Tower Fire were murdered, victims of the violence of neglect.  Here is the proof.
A year ago, a fire started on the fourth floor of Grenfell Tower, due to a faulty appliance.  The fire spread quickly up the side of the building because the tower had been refurbished in 2016.  Flammable cladding had been added to the exterior building as part of an £8 million refit which appears to have primarily made the tower more cosmetically pleasing.  The money was not spent on improving fire safety within the building, it would appear, a cause for concern for residents’ groups for years. The initial cladding that was to be used is not illegal in the UK but its use is restricted in other countries.  To save costs a cheaper version was eventually attached to the building, a more flammable version. 
Once the fire caught, residents were advised to stay in their flats.  In 99% of all cases this is the best advice, because flats are designed to be “fire resistant boxes” surr…