Abstract

This essay explores Ron Silliman's Universe, a serial poetic project which, according to the publisher's description, “were [the author] to live long enough, would take him three centuries to complete.” The article specifically focuses on the significance of the book's length for a general discussion of aging, poetry and temporality. One should bear in mind that Universe is not a retrospective work of synthesis but rather a present and future-oriented project. The point of departure for the article's analysis will be the following passage from Northern Soul, the second book in the series: “Page 43 / you will read / differently if / there are 94 to the book / than if there are just / 45, What about / 523 what then / little hen.” Notorious for his massive tomes of verse, Silliman establishes an analogy between the length of his life and the length of his work that, blows up conventional chronological accounts of life. In this poem, death, instead of looming on the horizon, is internalized as the point of transition from one page to the next, the death of an event being the birth of another. Everyday life thus reveals itself in all its subtle variety, its generative evanescence paradoxically enriching the life of the poet. Silliman's epic poetry is not, that is, a matter of mastery or life extension (it makes no claims to totalization or immortality) but rather one of life enchantment, achieved through a greater bardic attunement to the granularities of everyday life.

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