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This article is taken from PN Review 165, Volume 32 Number 1, September - October 2005.

Definite Sentences: Ron Silliman Jeremy Noel-Tod

Twenty-five books into his career, Under Albany is Ron Silliman's first original UK publication. A fascinating, one-or-two-sittings read, it offers a neat point of entry for readers unfamiliar with his enormous output. One major phase of this, a multi-book poem titled (and structured by) The Alphabet, was recently declared finished; another, even longer and called Universe, has been announced. So, Under Albany comes between the Z-poem of The Alphabet and whatever Bang the big-thinking Silliman plans next. A memoir written in the form of autobiographical glosses on the 100 sentences of his A-poem, 'Albany', it is a piecemeal account of a life committed to progressive poetics and politics.

Although the book concludes 'It is not possible to "describe a life"', and despite the structural diffraction of its chronology, the essential narrative of Silliman's post-war youth and young manhood is easily pieced together: poor, dysfunctional West Coast family; conscientious objection to the Vietnam draft; college and political activism; work in the prison reform movement; growing literary ambition and recognition; failed first and happy second marriage. What may not be so clear to new readers is the poetic principle on which 'Albany' is predicated. Silliman defined this in the late 1970s as 'the new sentence'. In his essay of the same name (from a book of essays of the same name) he proposed that the sentence itself had become the new 'prosodic measure' of ...

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