Clayton Eshleman: The Essential Poetry (1960-2015)

014EssentialPoetryThis superb volume from Black Widow Press landed on my desk a few days ago & I have only been able to dip into it from time to time between writing deadlines & preparations for moving (to Boise, ID for the spring semester). I recommend it wholeheartedly as what may be the definitive collection of Eshleman’s poetic oeuvre. Very useful — for both the new reader and the one who is familiar with CE’s work — is the book’s frame: Stuart Kendall’s “Introduction,” locating the man and the work, and Eshleman’s own 70-page post-face, “Gratitude and Annotation” which is both a poetics and a commentary on the works presented. When I first opened the book I came by chance to the following two lines, the final lines of the poem “Ode to Reich,” from the late sixties, which, I believe manage to encapsulate Eshleman’s poetics and seem totally cogent & operative to me today:

… that poetry is translation not just of language
but the passing of a psyche into new form.

Here is Robert Kelly, one of Eshleman’s compañeros & “fellow argonauts” in poetry since the earliest days, with an enlightening quatrième de couverture:

“Nobody is like him in his struggle. With ornery stubbornness he has kept visiting the dark occasions, and brought back for us poems unlike anybody else’s. At times he makes the wildness of most poetry seem merely effete. Because he has gone down and done so with a language fit for his researches: clotted, angry, surprised, full of grunts as a cartoon, full of magical gleams like sunlight striking through chinks of rock, hard as tourmaline, streets of mica peeled away.

I know of no poet who has fed so richly from the thingliness of the world beneath his feet, none who so resists the glamour of beliefs. He is a shaman without a single superstition.”

—Robert Kelly


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