Wild Form--by Ron Silliman



_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
	Form is of interest only to the extent that it empowers 
	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 
           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 
	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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