Country Without Maps
A Roof of Tiger Lilies
A Time of Bees
An Existential Nerve Cell
The writing of poetry today is an immense free play. It somewhat resembles the modern household, each member going about his or her business, meeting fortuitously, the contact producing sometimes a flare-up, sometimes a guilty rapport, or simply indifference. That pleasant political dichotomy of just a few years past, the Academics vs. the Beats, no longer holds. Splitting the ticket is very much the thing. As for definitions, is poetry a “criticism of life,” or a “symbolic landscape,” or a “barbaric yawp”? No one knows, and certainly, despite the occasional call-to-arms, hardly anyone cares. The poets I discuss come from different generations, they reflect different ends and means; taken together they offer, I think, a good cross-section of disparate modes. Yet the scraggiest of them drag in some bit of intellectual esoterica, the most genteel now and then use slang. Not one works in what could be called a pure tradition, a term which, in any case, has become problematic. As will be seen, each review is self-contained and, with one exception, I have made no attempt at “bridging.”
Like a stripped rabbit, the populist spirit of the Thirties is turned inside out in Edward Dorn’s bleak, lean, belligerent poems, most of them a “living speech” meditations on the American Southwest, over which the shadow of Disneyland squats.
Let us not mention Ford workers,
or generations of workers father & son
or that goddamn shit about divid- ing
up the land, They
who divide do so in order to
keep keep keep: They simply get what they want—an economy is never more intricate than that…
Flabby, pallidly corrupt, stupefied with goods (even “cowboys live/in ranch style houses”) meanly wistful or repressed
They say “Well, Stevenson speaks well, is at home
with ideas (yi)…why can’t it be
why can’t we have a good man
what the hell is wrong, son of a bitch
I’d like to tear somebody’s throat out
Geezchrist, but he does speak elo- quently
—so the workers have been betrayed, and by themselves. Social concern (trade unionism, democratic renewal—all those boring New Deal touchstones lie about collecting dust, grass, flies, the inevitable bulldozer bearing down none too soon.
Full of ambivalent protestations, full of caring and not caring, of a kind of cheap knockabout exhaustion—one’s travels prove too fierce, complex, circular:
What I already knew: not a damn thing
ever changes: the cogs that turn this machine are set
a thousand miles on plumb, be- neath the range of the Hima- alayas
Dorn’s poems, nevertheless, gather strength, and within limits, a remarkable authenticity, in various ways: through a deadpan romanticization of the frontier past (Meriwether Lewis, Tecumseh, even Thoreau), the use of mock-Cantos effects (especially in the book’s roomy, central, attitudinizing poem, “The Land Below”), and in the fine, incidental spurts of regional detail, e.g., “The snow lays against the slope/as skin clings to a baby giraffe…” But above all—and…
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