Clayton Eshleman’s Anatomy of the Night

I have been reading — & rereading — Clayton Eshleman’s An Anatomy of Night (published — details here — by Blaze Vox [Books] in 2011) with great, & indeed, increasing pleasure over some weeks now. It is vintage Eshleman, that is, the strength & power of image-making, always his forte, & the muscular & nervous dynamic that organizes & drives these knotted metaphorics forward, have in no way diminished with time — & combine to make for rich & dense poetry.

To speak of an Eshlemanian Altenstil, literally justified for an author at 75, even one as prolix as CE, is however meant here foremost as a positive comment on the quality of this part of the oeuvre, in that the writing seems more leavened & thus — if not, if never relaxed or loose — moving away from the extreme density of the earlier work, a density that may at times have worked against his readers — certainly against younger generations coming to Eshleman’s work for the first time. He achieves this leavening by inserting / collaging  prose sections, either his comments on, say, the caves’ material the poems are dealing with, or journal-like entries, with citations from his wide readings (Róheim, Hillman, Kühn, Djuna Barnes, etc.) to create a tapestry that both unifies the book, making it more than a simple collection of distinct poems, & creating a weave, a textum, in which one strand of the writing reflects on the other, enriching & commenting on the other strand(s). In that sense I see the book — beyond the sheer pleasure & information it is providing me — as an excellent point of entry into CE’s work for novice readers (will in fact use it in my fall creative class exactly in order to bring that luminous complexity to the students).

If “night” & its mares or dreams are a staple of poetry, in Eshleman’s hands any simple surface ghostliness is dismissed in favor of an in-depth investigation — a mano a mano struggle, often — of the psychic energies both dreams & insomnia propose. The darkness of night is mother/sister to the darkness of the prehistoric caves that have been such an essential part of Eshleman’s work, and the skills required for navigating through both spaces are closely linked — just as the images CE’s psyche throws up in those sister-realms are closely linked to each other while rhyming with other spaces, the actual and psychic basement-cave of the poet’s Indianapolis childhood home. Here is the poem also cited on the back-cover of the book, & that presents a (at least momentary) resolution of the demonic hauntings the darknesses of the various nights involve, through the loved woman:


          Imaginal love

          incorrigibly infected by violence,

                         the damnation strut in the human,

          fuse of extinction      formless horizon:

                  now the daily telepathy


          I listen to Caryl breathe.

                             Why cannot her being

          bless the world?  Bless it to awaken from the doomcraft

                                    that is religion—


          The dark sloughs its “d” and the ark of dawn,

          first in my heart, then in the fuzzy edge of the window        


          reveals Caryl’s recumbent profile.


          Blind edge, road of awe, world axis that allows me to

                 contemplate her breathing.


p.s. Just in in yesterday’s mail is New American Writing # 30, which among much other excellent work prints a powerful 10-page prose work of Eshleman’s called Mandalizing that investigates the concept of the “angel” — so often a cliché in poetry before, in, and after Rilke.

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1 Response

  1. Poo says:

    Very nice. Nothing quite so stirring as a loved one asleep early in the morning. Reminds me of an old tune, ‘Mary In The Morning.’

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