Books

The Age of Huts (compleat) by Ron Silliman

Andrew Ervin
The Philadelphia Inquirer (MCT)

If The Age of Huts provides any indication, we're witnessing the development of what is sure to be a defining literary project of the postmodern era.


The Age of Huts (compleat)

Publisher: University of California Press
ISBN: 0520250168
Author: Ron Silliman
Price: $19.95
Length: 324
Formats: Trade Paperback
US publication date: 2007-04
Amazon

The Age of Huts (compleat) comes as a welcome collection from Chester County, Pennsylvania's own rabble-rouser-in-residence, poet Ron Silliman. Through his prodigious output and a hugely influential blog that has attracted more than a million hits, Silliman has become a kind of elder statesman in the world of innovative literature. While I'm reluctant to pigeonhole his work -- sorry, his "texts" -- into any specific -ism, there's no denying that The Age of Huts is a shining example of what the language poetry school has contributed to contemporary letters.

At the risk of gross oversimplification, language poetry demonstrates the ways in which words write us (and therefore construct reality) as much as we write them. The formal structure of The Age of Huts requires some explanation, so please bear with me. According to the preface, Silliman has been working for more than 30 years on a single poem titled "Ketjak." When complete, it will be made up of four texts: one long poem, "Tjanting" (already available in book form), and three poetry cycles ("The Alphabet," "Universe" and the present volume, "The Age of Huts").

Stay with me here. The Age of Huts consists of four poems: "Ketjak" (yes, the same title as the entire, decades-old project); "Sunset Debris"; "The Chinese Notebook"; and "2197."

Confused? We're not done yet. "2197" itself contains 13 separate poems, further contributing to what Silliman calls a "Russian-doll structure." He has also included a pair of prose poems, "Satellite Texts." Got all that? It adds up to a complex component of a massive poetic machine, one still under construction.

Or maybe it's still under deconstruction, as The Age of Huts appears to reject the traditional, hierarchical dynamic of poetry in which an exalted Author issues a neatly composed series of proclamations. Silliman has decided to stop making sense. Whatever meaning exists in each poem or conglomeration of poems derives not from some specific message the author hopes to get across, but instead from the interaction of the text with the personal experiences of each individual reader. These poems exist on the page in a state of incompleteness until you -- yes, you -- come along and contribute your own interpretation.

The opening poem, "Ketjak," behaves like a cyclical series of self-replicating prose paragraphs in which ideas and sequences of words grow in complexity. It begins with a one-line stanza reading just "Revolving door," which serves as both a metaphor and a formal model. The poem then expands organically and exponentially until the final, 50-page section of intellectual introspection about everything from childhood memories to the words Silliman is using to describe those memories:

"I did not get my picture of the world by satisfying myself of its correctness. Why these lines, by mere convention, accumulate to form meaning. A big she St. Bernard. Thirty thousand words. The truths of which he says he knows are such as all of us know, if he knows them.

"Sunset Debris" asks quite a lot of the reader, mainly because it contains 40 pages of provocative questions such as "Are you sorry? Are you amusing or amused? Do sentence types limit what we say? Why does my toe ache, my knee feel stiff? Is not communication an act of violence?" Some questions are hilarious, others crude -- many are both.

"The Chinese Notebook" contains a list of 223 aphoristic journal entries. They appear randomly ordered, but you may very well find yourself making connections between "101. Before you can accept the idea of fiction, you have to admit everything else" and "156. What if I told you I did not really believe this to be a poem? What if I told you I did?" Narrative here, or the hope of narrative here, is literally whatever you make of it.

The 13 poems in "2197," the final and longest section of the book, take different forms and allow Silliman to show off his lyrical talents. In them, he takes as his subject nothing less than the entire natural world and the function of language in it. Like everything else in The Age of Huts, these poems defy static meaning, but the imagery does provide the reader with a bit more to work with, as do the "Satellite Texts," the two prose poems that combine to form a kind of coda.

Silliman's "Ketjak" -- of which The Age of Huts is only a small part -- stands among the most ingenious and ambitious poetic endeavors currently under way in American letters. With it, Silliman is actively reshaping what poetry means and causing us to rethink the very nature of language. Can you ask for more than that from any artist? If The Age of Huts provides any indication, we're witnessing the development of what is sure to be a defining literary project of the postmodern era. Good luck, reader.

7

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Music

Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.

Film

Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.

Music

Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.

Music

The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.

Music

Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.

Music

Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.

Music

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.

Music

'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.

Music

Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.

Television

Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.

Film

Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.

Music

The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.