Wild Form--by Ron Silliman
WILD FORM _What I'm beginning to discover now is something beyond the novel and beyond the arbitrary confines of the story...into realms of revealed Picture..._wild form_, man, wild form. Wild form's the only form holds what I have to say-- my mind is exploding to say something about every image and every memory.... I have an irrational lust to set down everything I know. Jack Kerouac to John Clellon Holmes 1 Form is of interest only to the extent that it empowers liberation.
The term _form_ is often misused. What people often mean by it is not form as such--structure that proves generative and inherent-- but pattern, exoskeletal reiteration. What one notices first about the so-called New Formalists is their distrust of form. Their work compulsively seeks to avoid or repress it, inserting pattern to pre-empt form's possibility.
Form is social. It gives meaning to context through its display of the author's stance. But this meaning is always (and only) context specific. Wordsworth's use of ordinary speech as a model for verse had, in its time, different implications from the same template in the hands of either Charles Olson or Phil Levine. In this sense, form is both neutral and amoral. There is no inherent virtue in a prose poem.
The situational specificity of form also explains why followers, imitators, epigones can never hope to extend or even replicate the meaning of their heroes. The meaning of any second generation is always the reification of the past, even if only to stabilize a sense of the present in order to render it less threatening and chaotic.
Here we discover in part the confusion that caused the first battle of the San Francisco poetry wars to become so intense: the meaning of Robert Duncan's "problem" with Barrett Watten's schematic representation of Zukofsky's form differed from that of David Levi-Strauss. While both Duncan and Levi-Strauss were committed to a fundamentalist reduction of Zukofsky's work, their relationship to the sacred text was substantially different.
But there have always been two possible readings of Zukofsky--Zukofsky as suggestion of possibility and Zukofsky as horizon or limit.
_Revealed Picture?_ For Kerouac, the signified is a template, not to be reproduced but entered into, much as a musicain might move through an improvisation with others. Point of view changes moment to moment even as the scene remains, if not stable exactly, in sight. In Kerouac's best writing, the sentence, a purely paratactic thing, is identical to this sense of picture (tho often enough what is represented is neither visual nor even physical). In no other writer of fiction is the relation between sentence and signified so closely alligned. What results is the presentation of voice--prosody and P.O.V. beget one another.
"Form is nothing more than an extension of content." And its converse: content is nothing more than an extension of form. The fulcrum of Creeley's famous equation is extension, from the Latin term for "to stretch out." This term reluctantly acknowledges that the nouns on either side are _not_, in fact, equivalent, but rather are modes of torsion, distorsion. If the fulcrum was, as one would expect, that verb of equivalence, is, then the converse would actually read "An extension of content is nothing more than form."
In what way(s) is content _stretched_? The terms I want are not strictly synonymous: shaped, sculpted, arranged, ordered, used, manipulated, intervened upon, cut, edited, mashed, fucked over, transformed. Between form and _trans_formation, content gets you _across_.
Form is nothing more than a confrontation with content ------------------------------------------------------------- Content is nothing more than a confrontation with form
I distrust the theory of meaning as a search among word roots. In practice, misuse is as common as use--and as critical (in both senses). Etymology is hierarchy.
When I wrote the first volume of _Ketjak_ in 1974, I used a systematic methodology to break down certain habits of mind that prevented me from focusing on the sentence as the point of perception. As the design strategy of that piece has been described by myself and others on several occasions, certain people (Aaron Shurin and Tom Marshall among them) have noted that the literal structure of the writing does not precisely follow the process described. At the time, the idea for the overall structure did not become clear until I was already in the act of writing. I saw then (and see now) no reason for going back to falsify the text's record of that decision in order to adhere to a conception of form that would have shifted its role from a generative function into something much more static--pattern.
Often I am asked of a new work, "What is its structure?" As if there were any other answer than that available through the process of reading the text. Implicit in the question is an idea of structure or form _as hidden_, to be revealed.
The gestalt "realism" of normative fiction occurs not because words and phrases refer hypotactically to sentences, sentences to paragraphs, paragraphs to chapters, chapters to the book as a whole, but rather because these appear to move through an indirect path to symbolic constructions: character, scene, plot, mood. The double hypotaxis of fiction is its secret allure, and indeed the origin of many of its effects. The symbolic chain of meaning, existing solely on the plane of the signified, serves to veil the linguistic chain, which is everywhere. Thus the invisibility of the omnipresent invests the symbolic with an animus that is all the more "lifelike" for its seeming inexplicability. This is called emotion, feeling, _sincerity_. In reality, it is none of the above.
In the work of Alan Davies, the content of form is anger, regardless of the announced topic. Anger is the subject (again, in both senses).
WCW: "The perfection of new forms as additions to nature." This axiom, which I once felt close to in my own writing, seems too passive to me now. The relation of the poem to the world is not simply accumulative, any more than it is reflective or expressive. The perfection of new forms as _interventions_ to nature. The purpose of the poem, like that of any act, is to change the world.
"The sort of person who could confuse the fibonacci number system with class struggle." Rather _conjoin_, to contrast, contest, and compare. The features one can abstract from social or natural phenomena reveal no more than patterns of stress--exactly what metrics extracts from sound (which is also why metrics never represents more than a fraction of prosody). On either side of the equation _fibonacci = class struggle_, we find human representations of complex processes. The underlying issue is one of representation. At its heart is the question: _What is the most direct method? _
Direct between what and what? Again the question of _across_, the problem of language as a bridge or as a system of semaphores whose code we can only partially reconstruct, provisionally, moment by moment, case by case. Morse code over a shortwave radio flooded with static.
--------- 1 Cited by Michael Davidson in _The San Francisco Renaissance: Poetics and Community at Mid-century_ (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), p. 71.
Online Source: http://wings.buffalo.edu/epc/authors/silliman/wildform
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