Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Proust Questionnaire, with Ron Silliman

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Ron Silliman

Ron Silliman's Revelator (BookThug) is no quiet poetry collection; in a sequence titled no less than "Universe", Ron tackles issues of globalisation and post-global politics. The title poem won The Poetry Foundation’s Levinson prize and Ron himself has been called a "wonder-worker", praised for the "fun" and "sheer unlikeliness" of his poems.

In his answers to the Proust Questionnaire today, Ron tells Open Book about his surprising television staple, the perfect time to eat a banana and his father's prophetic nickname.

The Proust Questionnaire was not invented by Marcel Proust, but it was a much loved game by the French author and many of his contemporaries. The idea behind the questionnaire is that the answers are supposed to reveal the respondent's "true" nature.

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What is your dream of happiness?
I’d settle for demilitarizing the United States.

What is your idea of misery?
Not demilitarizing the United States. The disequilibrium of wealth on this planet is horrifying.

Where would you like to live?
I never expected to live immediately south of Valley Forge, but I have now for the past 18 years. Where seems to me much less important than how. The world is a wonderful and various place.

What qualities do you admire most in a man?
Honesty, gentleness, optimism, a commitment to something (it’s not so important what precisely).

What qualities do you admire most in a woman?
Pretty much the same.

What is your chief characteristic?
I muddle through. I learned early that I had little in the way of “natural” gifts, for lyric poetry, sports, music, etc. I chose to make that a positive by working harder to learn what I needed to know. In retrospect, my life is a monument to being okay with one’s awkwardness.

What is your principal fault?
I’m a perfectionist, with a tendency toward anxiety. Bad combination. The struggle between the answer to this question and to the one before are the great battle of my life.

What is your greatest extravagance?
Watching Project Runway. In ten years, I’ve never missed an episode.

What faults in others are you most tolerant of?
Their sexual habits, inclinations, indiscretions. I don’t care who you sleep with so long as they are capable of consent.

What do you value most about your friends?
Their commitment to being good people.

What characteristic do you dislike most in others?
Greed.

What characteristic do you dislike most in yourself?
An inability to recognize my own need to ask for help until it’s too late.

What is your favourite virtue?
Kindness.

What is your favourite occupation?
Poet. That has been the case ever since I figured out, at 16, what a poet might be.

What would you like to be?
Other than a poet? I never found anyone who thought that a slow left-handed second baseman had a reasonable shot at professional baseball, but I doubt that I would have cared for the lifestyle of an athlete.

What is your favourite colour?
This changes hourly but it probably circles back to blue most often.

What is your favourite flower?
Normally I’d cite cyclamen, but lately I’ve been drawn to orchids and the more delicate varieties of hydrangea.

What is your favourite bird?
One I haven’t seen before. I love birding.

What historical figure do you admire the most?
I tend not to admire them, but Nelson Mandela’s willingness to forgive white South Africa has caught my attention.

What character in history do you most dislike?
George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are loathesome, evil men.

Who are your favourite prose authors?
Herman Melville. Kathy Acker. Francis Ponge. Lyn Hejinian.

Who are your favourite poets?
Louis Zukofsky, Rae Armantrout, Jack Spicer, Robert Creeley.

Who are your favourite heroes in fiction?
Molly Bloom. Ferdinand the Bull. Babar.

Who are your heroes in real life?
Make your own. Relief workers in dangerous parts of the world. Teachers.

Who is your favourite painter?
This changes hourly. Mostly they are women.

Who is your favourite musician?
This also changes often. Right this moment it’s Seasick Steve, whose blues makes me miss Oakland, California, but that’s today. Tomorrow it might be the call of the Swainson’s thrush or a throat singer from Tuva or a musician from Mali.

What is your favourite food?
Bananas, best eaten just before they become fully ripe.

What is your favourite drink?
Espresso.

What are your favourite names?
The names of my sons, Colin Robert & Jesse Kyle.

What is it you most dislike?
Greed.

What natural talent would you most like to possess?
The ability to sing.

How do you want to die?
The men in my family tend most often to die of heart attacks or by accident. I try to be careful. My father walked away from a plane wreck in 1947 only to die of burns from an explosion in 1965. His nickname was Lucky.

What is your current state of mind?
Ontario.

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
My kids. I don’t mean that casually either. I came from a very dysfunctional family and the idea of raising children of my own took an act both of faith and a commitment to do it better.

What is your motto?
Blasphemy is the most important right. No other rights are possible without the capacity to say precisely what one means.


Ron Silliman has written and edited over 30 books, and has had his poetry and criticism translated into 12 languages. He has worked as a political activist, editor, and market analyst. Among his honours, Silliman was a 2012 Kelly Writers House Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, and the 2010 recipient of the Levinson Prize, from the Poetry Foundation. His sculpture poetry (Bury Neon) is permanently on display in the transit centre of Bury, Lancashire, and he has a plaque in the walk dedicated to poetry in his home town of Berkeley, although he now lives in Chester County, Pennsylvania.

For more information about Revelator please visit the BookThug website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

Check out all the Proust Questionnaire interviews in our archives.

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