Algarín, Miguel. "The Sidewalk of High Art." In Aloud: Voices from the Nuyorican Poets Café, edited by Bob Holman and Miguel Algarín. New York: Henry Holt, 1994, pp. 3-28. Esterrich, Carmelo. "Home and the Ruins of Language: Victor Hernandez Cruz and Miguel Algarín Nuyorican Poetry." MELUS 23 (1998): 43-56.

J. Elizabeth Clark


Ron sillimans The Alphabet is a multivolume long poem exhibiting the remarkable agreement of gener ous scope and attention to minutiae displayed in other experimental works, such as Louis zukofskys "a," bp Nichols The Martyrology, and Paul blackburns the journals. As is true of these works, included in the minutiae of Silliman's poem are the minor events and materials of language itself, an engine propelled here by the alphabet's 26 letters, which constitute the formal occasion for the poem.

Silliman deploys a number of innovative compositional strategies in this project. The mathematical Fibonacci series (wherein each number of the series equals the sum of the previous two numbers: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13 . . . ), for example, determines the length of stanza-graphs in the volume Lit (1987). One formal impulse marking all the constituent books of The Alphabet is Silliman's signature preference for the sentence over the traditional poetic line. Taken individually, his sentences are conventional enough; the seeming disjunctions between them are what make Sil-liman's work so dynamic. Apparent non sequiturs yield, in fact, multiple concurrent junctions, as they allow for associative links beyond the narrative segue; that is, logical gaps between sentences allow for a variety of poetic leaps. The Alphabet performs the kind of generative tension, the "play of syllogistic movement" (90), which Silliman celebrates in his critical book on experimental poet's prose, The New Sentence. Both works are considered seminal texts in that field of creative investigation referred to as the language school.

In avoiding plot that could prove distracting, Silli-man's poems invite readers to enjoy a more intimate engagement with the linguistic materials on the page. The primary logic of "Leopards in leotards," for example, is concrete rather than narrative (see visual poetry). The way the shift of one letter (p to t) attends a radical shift in pronunciation begs more attention than cats in tights, although they too are a welcome curiosity. The intimate aura of The Alphabet is partly achieved, of course, through the imminence of its compositional moments. We are aware of the writer writing. In Under (1993) we read, "Wake, walk, wok, woke, waken versus bake, balk, doesn't exist, doesn't exist, bacon." Here the odd appearances of "doesn't exist" alert the reader to failures in procedure so that the process of writing itself becomes part of the poem.

We witness the author happily substituting b for w in the word pairs wake/bake and walk/balk, then reaching an impasse at "wok" (although we might want to ask him, what about, say, bok choy?).

Although its refusal of simple referentiality may inspire charges of absurdism, The Alphabet is, in fact, profoundly connected to the world. Silliman's process tracks all immediate phenomena with an attention at once visceral, philosophical, and documentary. His radically inclusive poetics results in work that is highly mimetic and highly autobiographical (two characteristics that critics and proponents alike frequently deny language writing). Such a poetics is also highly ethical, its democratic scope prompting us to consider what and whom we routinely edit out of our field of vision. One of Silliman's achievements in the The Alphabet is to offer us an "index of the not seen" (Jones 1993).

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