Sunday, April 7, 2013

Re:Takes On Ed Dorn

Wikipedia notes that Aklavik wasn't incorporated into a hamlet until 1974.  Dorn's lead-off poem in "The North Atlantic Turbine" - quite rightly called a "great poem" by Iain Sinclair in his review of the new Collected (LRB, 11 April, "Collected Poems" by Edward Dorn) was written prophetically prior to that, since Turbine was published in 1967 by Fulcrum Press. 
Sinclair also writes of a time and place, when Compendium Books was still there in the now swarmed over Camden Town.  Mike Hart, a mutual friend, is mentioned, and the shadow of Nick Kimberly.  And the world of poets publishing poets in Limited Editions. 
Peter Riley's two-part article in his "Fortnightly Review" overview of Dorn's work, correctly, in my opinion, notes that "Recollections of Gran Apacheria" is the apex of Dorn's achievement, another truly great poem, although personally I also love some of the early lyrics like "The Air of June Sings" and "The Rick of Green Wood" and "Like A Message On Sunday" and "Vaquero"....However, Riley goes on to denigrate Turbine (the title poem in particular) as if Dorn had no right to criticize things English, and he finds Dorn's forays into world politics to be a wrong turning foreshadowing misanthropy.  But then Riley has never lived in "the belly of the beast".
In both articles, Iain's much stronger in his praise of Dorn, it is argued that "Gunslinger" set out be be comedic.  I believe this is not so.  That tone became prevalent more in "The Winterbook", and then after, when cocaine sets in.  True, the talking horse (no doubt inspired by the smoke and the old American TV series "Ed, The Talking Horse"), and the Canterbury-like group assembling prepare one for mock-epic, but the tone is post-Zizekian if you will; back then when first published, I found it totally de-familiarizing. It is not only serious, despite its mixed tone, it is the first poem I know to have made discourse shifts, an insistent epistomological and cosmological changing of gears, sometimes within the line itself and the contiguous words, an integral part of a "spiritual address", which Dorn said "The North Atlantic Turbine" (a crucial book) had freed him up for.  It is in Turbine that his Gunslinger makes his first appearance:
"This is for your sadly missing heart....
it is the girl you left
in Juarez,  the blank
political days press her now
in the narrow alleys
or in the confines of the river town
her dress is torn
by the misadventure of
               her gothic search
my mare lathers with tedium
her hooves are dry
Look they are covered with the alkali
of the enormous space
between here and formerly.
And why do you have a female horse
Gunslinger?  I asked.  Don't move
he replied
the sun sits deliberately
on the rim of the sierra" 
It reminds one of early Godard (Band of Outsiders), and it was, to use Ralph Maud's term "archaic postmodern" referring to Olson.  It was a new mode of poetic composition in a way, but "The Winterbook" begins its descent into satire from a loftier plane into the comic mode Riley and Sinclair say was its original intent.  I think the aim was higher.  He wanted to be "a classical poet" he had said, not "neo-classic" - though Byron too loved the eighteenth century poets, and attacked Keats for his dissing of them ("they swayed back and forth upon a rocking horse / and called it Pegasus").  As Tom Clark, in his biography of Dorn, "A World Of Difference"  perceptively writes of "The Cycle" interrupting what was becoming of the epic turned mock:
"Dorn extends the range of his symbolism into an area very close to moral allegory.  The extension is consistent with his working principles in the poem, which differs from his previous efforts in the multivalent density of the referential field it activates...." (p. 113). 
And here is the opening of Book 2:
          "This tapestry moves
as the morning lights up.
And they who are in it move
and love its moving
from sleep to Idea
born on the breathing
of a distant harmonium, To See
is their desire
as they wander estranged"
In the later work: the sardonic aphorisms of "Abhorrences" and the under-rated "Languedoc Variorum" and the final poems of "Chemo Sabe" "spectacular rewards" as Sinclair writes, "are the strategic shifts and heretical inspirations of the poet's long career are revealed.  First, his courage. Then his persistence....Dorn refined his ability to articulate a precise report from wherever he stood.  He mastered a 'terrific actualism'."
Yes, he has moved from some beautiful early poems (almost Frostian at times), to original authentic voice, innovative and enduring, a lasting achievement. 

(Bill Sherman, April 6th/7th 2013)