Essay

The Hero and the Gunslinger

Did Robert Creeley and Ed Dorn lose their way in middle age?

by Aram Saroyan
Robert Creeley and Edward Dorn
Robert Creeley and Edward Dorn

Almost a decade ago I was interviewed by Michael Silverblatt on his radio show Bookworm. I’d edited Ted Berrigan’s posthumous Selected Poems, and the show was an opportunity to talk about Ted and his work and to publicize the book. In the middle of the interview, Silverblatt surprised me by remarking that Ted and I and a number of other poets, including Ron Padgett and Tom Clark, represented a second generation of the New York School but that we hadn’t managed to live up to the achievement of the first generation: Frank O’Hara, John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, Barbara Guest, and James Schuyler.

“Isn’t the next generation supposed to improve on its predecessors,” Silverblatt mused rhetorically.

I held back several possible responses and tried to make a case for the fact that Tom Clark, for example, was the author of a far larger oeuvre than any member of the first generation and had written in a greater variety of genres. Perhaps temporizing, Silverblatt went on to say that the difference was that we hadn’t had to measure ourselves against a masterpiece like “The Waste Land” and therefore wrote more modestly.

We had measured ourselves against Ginsberg’s “Howl” and “Kaddish,” among other works, and Ted’s book-length poem The Sonnets is, in its way, an exhilarating successor. What is more true of our generation is that we didn’t play by the rules of the literary establishment. We came of age during the ’60s and paid a commensurate price in censure and revisionism for that. The first generation of “TV babies,” raised during the post–World War II economic boom, we were less grateful for our parents’ sacrifices than we might have been, while at the same time being natural denizens of a newly electrified culture.

I might have added that I myself was only nominally a New York School poet. My first allegiance had been to the Black Mountain poets, to Robert Creeley, Denise Levertov, Robert Duncan, Charles Olson, and Edward Dorn, and to a number of others as well. Indeed, there was a time when these poets meant everything to me, when they embodied the possibility of the kind of life I wanted for myself.

All are gone now, and I’m struck by the shape of their various careers in long view. Charles Olson and Robert Duncan seem to me to be major American poets, great and generative figures as much today as they were during the ’60s. Denise Levertov is a personal favorite, though her range is more modest. Robert Creeley and Edward Dorn, on the other hand, wonderful poets in youth, both seem to have lost their way in midlife.

Creeley’s early work—which comprises poems, stories, and essays, and which is perhaps crowned by his novel The Island, published when he was in his mid-30s—holds the promise of a major American literary figure. Edward Dorn, also a practitioner of all these genres, seemed to many of us a figure of comparable promise with perhaps a broader vision of the American sociopolitical as well as ecological landscape. Dorn, only three years younger than Creeley, had been a student at Black Mountain College during the years when Creeley taught there.

At 20, having gotten an assignment from Henry Rago at Poetry to review The Island, I dared to write to Creeley in New Mexico from New York, and was rewarded beyond expectation with a long and interesting letter about his sources as a writer. As we exchanged several more letters, I was moving around in search of an apartment and remember writing him from a hotel in Brooklyn Heights where I stayed only a night or two. Those were heady days. For me, corresponding with Creeley was what I imagined it might have been like for a young political aspirant to correspond with then–President Kennedy.

Here is a favorite poem from Creeley’s first mainstream collection, For Love:

         The End

When I know what people think of me
I am plunged into my loneliness. The grey

hat bought earlier sickens.
I have no purpose no longer distinguishable.

A feeling like being choked
enters my throat.

There is a wonderful poker-faced humor to this bleak poem, signaled in the title, and also in the clotted syntax of the fourth line. It’s so vividly an emotional thing and at the same time a made thing, a fact of words that delivers its message with the artful artlessness of a young master of what would come to be known as the Black Mountain School. Looking through the book the other night, I was struck by how often Creeley uses a title as a distancing device, while the poem itself may be entirely enveloped in the dilemma it presents.

What distinguishes these early poems is the personal detail, the signature of a more-than-literary life. Robert Bly pointed out that the energy and specificity of these poems are diluted in later volumes, by which time the poet, as so many have done to survive, had become a tenured professor. The Creeley biography by Ekbert Faas notes that during the ’60s Allen Ginsberg told Creeley that he didn’t necessarily have to write “good” poems, advice Creeley seemed to take almost literally in his next book, Pieces: a book of very short notations arranged down the pages with a kind of blithe insouciance, as if to say, I’m a poet and therefore this is poetry. This is the way Creeley would often henceforth write. Being a technical master, given a particular circumstance or assignment, he would on occasion write a fine poem or essay. But the early work is another order of achievement, full to bursting with “felt life,” Henry James’s measure for literature.

Edward Dorn once said to me that Creeley’s handicap—a missing eye since a childhood accident, over which Creeley wore no patch—added something to his mystique, something perhaps comparable in its effect to Byron’s clubfoot. In fact, Dorn himself was the best-looking white-man poet of his day, a tall, angular figure with a handsome face akin to the textbook renderings of Andrew Jackson. My first encounter with him occurred in the summer of 1964, when my friend Jim Brodey and I visited LeRoi Jones in Buffalo, where he and his family were sharing a house with Dorn and his family. Both poets were teaching in the summer session at the state university there.

Dorn, celebrated among his peers and an admired elder of Jim’s and my generation, proved to be an elusive figure, darting in and out of the living room once or twice as Jones generously played host to the two young poets. In part spurred by his unavailability, I audited one of Dorn’s classes.

I don’t think I could have told you what the class was about five minutes after it ended—although I remember that the subject included Melville—but Dorn was a marvel to see and hear. Seated at his desk at the front of the class, he didn’t engage in dialogue with students. He lectured, but at the same time was somehow casual and unassuming. He simply spoke, and the combination of his voice and his diction was spellbinding. He had a special way with vowels, evident in his poetry; and his wonderfully even pitch and intonation, coupled with word choices seemingly conjured out of the moment, made up a kind of spoken music. Here is the title poem of Dorn’s collection The Newly Fallen, which had appeared several years earlier:

If it should ever come

And we are all there together
time will wave as willows do
and adios will be truly, yes,

         laughing at what is forgotten
and talking of what’s new
admiring the roses you brought.
How sad.

You didn’t know you were at the end
thought it was your bright pear
the earth, yes

another affair to have been kept
and gazed back on
when you had slept
to have been stored
as a squirrel will a nut, and half
forgotten,
there were so many, many
from the newly fallen.


The music in these words, a kind of dancing melancholy, seems to me the signature of Dorn’s greatest work. He was raised by Illinois farm people without the advantages of Harvard-trained peers like Creeley, save his gift and the effort with which he cultivated and refined it. Dorn’s early long-lined poems “Geranium” and “The Air of June Sings” deserve a place among the permanent American poems, I think, being the closest I know in our literature to the musical complexity and felicity of the Elizabethans.
    
What happened? Over the years, the voice gradually turned into a hipster’s cutting, sarcastic instrument, often so elliptical as to be incomprehensible. Somehow the shading and suffering in his early work was forgone. This happened gradually, and he never succumbed to the willfulness one finds in middle and later Creeley. He remained a searching and interesting poet, but he no longer moved one as he had. Like virtually everybody who experienced the ’60s firsthand, Dorn experimented with drugs, and one can imagine that so finely tuned a verbal musician might have been more affected by them than others who had never made such music.

 

The cover photo of Edward Dorn was taken at the The Poetry Project 20th Year Symposium.

Originally Published: April 28, 2009

COMMENTS (100)

On April 22, 2009 at 1:49pm thom donovan wrote:
what's worse, in late Dorn, is the blatant (and hateful) homophobia.
forget "hipsterism" (one of the many curses of our era, and Dorn's/yours)...

the question of what happens to the poet's "voice" is an interesting one tho.
how this voice evolves, augments, perverts, and ossifies becoming a (bad) parody of its self...

cf. (John) Taggart on (William) Bronk
for an exhilarating study of just this problem, in Taggart's book *Songs of Degrees*...

--Thom

On April 23, 2009 at 8:03am Gerard Malanga wrote:
What I find so remarkable when I read Aram's nonfiction is the clarity, generosity & accessibility of his observations. Simply, I get great enjoyment when I read him. None of this gibberish stuff. He tells it like it is and he lands on his feet. There's no debate here nor is there need to.

On April 23, 2009 at 9:05am Kent Johnson wrote:
Gerard Malanga said:

>He tells it like it is and he lands on his feet. There's no debate here nor is there need to.

Hm. No need for debate? We've just been told, in rather lax, sweeping terms, that the mid and late work of Creeley and Dorn is more or less minor (Creeley's reputation overblown, apparently, because of his missing eye; Dorn become "incomprehensible" due to drugs).

I suppose it's possible a case could be proffered in that regard, over and against the numerous, admiring studies of their later writing, but there is no real argument made here. The piece is based on quick, anecdotal opinion.

Somewhat surprised the Poetry Foundation would feature such a casual, unsupported dismissal.

Kent

On April 23, 2009 at 9:13am Gerald Hausman wrote:
I'm not sorry to say that I never really got Dorn during his day. Creeley, yes. Now, thanks to Aram's alchemy, I get and have got Dorn.

On April 23, 2009 at 9:30am Dale Smith wrote:
Aram, I like your description of Gen 2 NY School, and particularly how you feature Tom Clark's work here as an example of complex range and over-all brilliance: it's long over-due recognition.

I may write more about this perceived "decline" in the work of Dorn and Creeley. I think there's good reason that Clark's biography of Ed ends just prior to Slinger, for instance. The music in Dorn, or the vulnerability in Creeley perhaps could be usefully measured against the later satiric commentary (Abhorrences) and reflective pieces ("Histoire du Florida"). Anyway, I don't see it as an either/or type of thing: the dramatic shift of writing, particularly in Dorn's work, invites more consideration. Along those lines, Amiri Baraka's recent "Ed Dorn and the Western World" (Effing Press, 2008) begins to deal with that shift post-60s in Ed's writing.

Dale

On April 23, 2009 at 10:25am Don Share wrote:
Dale is being modest - he has lovingly edited the Baraka-on-Dorn pamphlet he mentions, which is really fascinating; as an object, it also stunningly reproduces the beautiful small press print aesthetic of the period.

On April 23, 2009 at 10:42am Kent Johnson wrote:
One extra plug here for the Baraka on Dorn pamphlet by Dale's Skanky Possum Books and Scott Pierce's Effing Press-- it's an absolutely important and *moving* document. A bit of a follow-up in the coup category to Dale's release of O'Hara's "lost" art criticism, under title What's with Modern Art?

Kent

On April 23, 2009 at 11:28am John Vieira wrote:
Yes, Aram's essay here is clear and useful and pleasing (and gracious and humane) and not only with regard to it's given subject but also in service to some interesting questions that have been plaguing me of late: Should writers continue working when even they know or feel they're working only for work's own sake? If a "masterpiece" (small or large) is to break through for a writer, will it if he or she is not continuing to work? Is there any inherent value in work that doesn't fall into that "felt life" depth--say, as a chronicle of one human's (even though, perhaps, troubled/confused) existence--or is this kind of work just crowding our world (and its current urgencies) with additional crap that doesn't help us move beyond ourselves, or beyond all the stuff already destroying it and us? Can't, for example, much of Stein's (voluminous) writing--very unreadable and with little or no use for Henry James' "felt life" criterion--going on and on chronicling the process of human consciousness in (excruciating) detail, be said, as a body of work, a total oeuvre, to be a "masterpiece"? Is, alternately, the writer's life of John of the Cross, who never made another poem after the handful that he wrote early on (which he considered to be his "masterpieces"), and instead occupied himself with lengthy prose commentary on the content of these original handful, another example of these questions? Creeley was a real hero for me, too, and I appreciate what Aram is saying here and how what he is saying ultimately raises a big question: What is writing as a true art? And I'm finding all of this sobering for me in relationship with my heroes--and also sobering and humbling just for myself: I know I haven't produced a masterpiece to date and yet my (already many) years of writing still continues, you know?

On April 23, 2009 at 12:44pm Rich Jensen wrote:
Citation for Dorn's 'hateful homophobia',
please? I've read most of his pages and
don't recall an instance that would fit
that description.

On April 23, 2009 at 12:53pm Elaine Madsen wrote:
"...He remained a searching and
interesting poet, but he no longer moved
one as he had...."

We the readers change as well. Old griefs
are replaced by new ones, old pleasures
evolve into adventures we didn't know
were there; we seek new and fresh voices
to move us. Does maturing have to mean
ossifying?

On April 23, 2009 at 1:03pm Michael Lally wrote:
Gerard gets it right in terms of the
generosity and clarity of Aram's prose.
And thank you Aram for that, as
always. But the whole question of
what's a "masterpiece" and whose taste
or perspective is correct, etc. seems to
me not to be the business of the
poet/artist/creator. After all, one era's
"masterpiece" is another's target for
satire or dismissal. And I doubt we'd all
agree on which of our contemporaries'
poems are "masterpieces"—let alone
poems from earlier generations. I don't
know about anyone else, but I've been
writing poetry all my life because in bad
times it's saved my life (as has reading
the poetry of others), and even on
good days made them feel more
meaningful. When I can't—for whatever
reason—get any writing in on any given
day (and it's been this way since I was
a child) I feel incomplete, even what
people call "depressed" but I prefer
calling "deep disappointment." I'm not
advocating writing poetry as therapy,
though obviously it's been done and
may sound like what I mean here, but
what I really mean is that the
compulsion in me to write poetry when
not fulfilled leaves me feeling a sense
of loss. And I don't mean poetry that
necessarily expresses my feelings or
interior life or even anything personal
or "real"—it can be just writing in
response to a structural or rhythmic or
other technical problem I create for
myself to resolve. Maybe the many
books that have come out of that don't
contain any "masterpieces" for some
readers, but often I find that for specific
readers poems of mine I thought the
least important have inspired them to
read a wider range of poetry or
influenced the writing of their own
poems, they tell me, or even, on a few
occasions, saved their lives. That
seems worthwhile to me. Maybe some
of the later work of Creeley or Dorn did
that too. Even if not for you.

On April 23, 2009 at 4:16pm Boyd Nielson wrote:
I chime in to say merely, first, that Kent is exactly right that Aram Saroyan’s claim in this essay that Creeley and Dorn “wonderful poets in youth, both seem to have lost their way in midlife” is not argument and is not even minimally distinguishable from opinion. (Kent and Dale note the problems about Dorn. As for Creeley, Saroyan—at least—notes the Faas biography, which tells us something about how Saroyan is approaching Creeley, in view of Faas’s reading of Creeley’s late works as that of a narcissistic “aging Rimbaud.”)

And, second, I haven’t yet read Amiri Baraka's "Ed Dorn and the Western World." Thanks, Dale, for your work on this. I look forward to it.

On April 23, 2009 at 8:52pm gary lenhart wrote:
How about context? Creeley and Dorn
wrote poems during a 40-50 year
period during which all kinds of
assumptions changed (homophobia?
was that a word in the 1950s?). I
disagree strongly with Aram Saroyan's
thesis about Creeley, but would admit
that Ed Dorn, who was one of the first
poets to inspire me, suffered from the
cultural changes—maybe because he
was raised by Illinois farmers and didn't
attend Harvard? I don't know.
Creeley's work changed constantly, and
some of his late poems are among his
best. "Histoire du Florida", as Dale
Smith mentions?

On April 24, 2009 at 11:23am Michael Robbins wrote:
I don't wish to defend this article, which does strike me as underargued, to say the least, just its assessment: late Creeley strikes me as sadly mediocre, while post-Slinger Dorn is embarrassing.

As for homophobia, that's too polite a term for Dorn's virulent, disgusting anti-homosexual rantings.

On April 24, 2009 at 2:10pm Henry Gould wrote:
I don't know who this blogger is, but the poem opens an interesting angle on this discussion :

http://northofthevortex.blogspot.com/2007/04/poet-ed-dorn-sat-writing-abhorrences.html

Dorn was the iconoclast. From "Gunslinger" :

"To a poet all authority
except his own
is an expression of Evil
and it is all external authority
that he expiates
this is the culmination of his traits."

A. Klenzahler, in a review of Dorn in NYTBR, also argued that his later poetry shows a "falling off". But he concluded :

"Throughout his career, he was the least endearing, domesticated or predictable of poets, always determined to go his own way, no matter what anyone thought. And if he hadn’t been that way, American poetry would be a lot less vital and interesting."

(Dorn's subterranean influence was upon me as well. The melancholy "refrain" in the penultimate chapter of the narrative poem Stubborn Grew came straight out of his book, "The Shoshoneans".)

On April 24, 2009 at 2:20pm Boyd Nielson wrote:
Dorn’s homophobia was certainly virulent and monstrous. No condemnation of it can be too strong. But a rehearsal of that condemnation is not identical with a reading of his poetry, even if a reading of his work would be incomplete and mistaken without a deep awareness of Dorn’s actions. Just as important, the reasons Saroyan proffers for Creeley’s and Dorn’s “losing their way” (Ginsberg’s advice and drugs, willfulness and hipsterism) are so thin that Saroyan might as well have blamed it on their lack of physical exercise. It is not at all clear that Creeley and Dorn lost their way in life instead of changing their poetry to take risks of a different order. Regardless of whether or not they were successful, the latter is not even a possibility in this essay. The point is this: what is really at stake in the shifts in their late work? What if they had finished their careers in the same mode as the earlier poetry Saroyan lauds? It may be the case, perhaps, that answers to these questions can be approached only by their being adequate to what Adorno says in a (late) lecture: “we believe a piece of knowledge to rank higher the less it is liable to failure, to disappointment […] whereas in truth—so it seems to me—only what can be refuted, what can be disappointed, what can be wrong, has the openness I have spoken of; that is, it is the only thing that matters.”

On April 24, 2009 at 3:53pm Dale Smith wrote:
I still plan to write something this weekend on Dorn/Creeley late work, but in the meantime I posted some things already in the can on Dorn's perceived homophobia at http://possumego.blogspot.com for anyone who's interested....

On April 24, 2009 at 5:21pm Kim Dorman wrote:
I'd have to agree with Kent that Aram's opinions about Creeley & Dorn are put forth "in rather lax, sweeping terms."

.

The comments about Dorn's "monstrous" and "hateful" homophobia remind me somewhat of the stir over Pound's "treasonous" fascism & his "vile" & "sordid" anti-semitism.

On April 24, 2009 at 6:12pm Henry Gould wrote:
For some "reality" check - Ron Silliman, at his journalistic best :

http://ronsilliman.blogspot.com/search/label/Ed%20Dorn

In comparison, Dale sounds like a sort of embarrassed apologist.

Not that I agree so much with Ron. My opinions don't matter. here, not having been there. Or read much.

My uninformed reaction, however : there's more to the story. Something really strange going on with Dorn's Ezra imitation. His satires not so easy to place. It's like "channeling" paranoia. Is it Timothy McVeigh, totally underground? Pure product of America?

On April 24, 2009 at 6:13pm Boyd Nielson wrote:
Regardless of whether the (accurate) condemnation of Dorn’s homophobia as monstrous reminds anyone of repudiations of Pound’s Fascism or anti-Semitism, the point is that it is wholly inadequate, on the one hand, to dismiss Dorn because of it or, on the other, to offer a reading of his late poetry that does not fully account for Dorn’s stance, in poetry and practice, on AIDS and homosexuality in the ’80s. Moreover, this whole conversation emerged in the comments section. Saroyan doesn’t mention it once. Which may be, perhaps, only one more reason why his claims here could not be flimsier. In any case, I highly recommend everyone check out Dale’s comments on his blog.

On April 24, 2009 at 6:49pm Kim Dorman wrote:
Well said, Boyd. The Cantos have been dismissed by some because of Pound's fascism & anti-semitism. Should Dorn's late work be dismissed because of his perceived homophobia? Surely "there's more to the story."

On April 24, 2009 at 6:55pm Henry Gould wrote:
Is it simply a dismissal. Boyd? Seems to me Saroyan is trying to take the measure of Dorn, in the perspective of many years' hindsight. He says what he likes best, & that some of it is "permanent", or should be. That's high praise. & he considers Dorn's work in terms of how he sees poetry in general. That's fair. There will always be advocates & acolytes - & maybe they will prove right, in the end. But it seems tyo be Saroyan is being fair according to his lights. Am I being naive? Is Saroyan issuing faint praise as cover for settling (very old) scores? I don't know. I hope note. But I give him the benefit of the doubt at this point.

On April 24, 2009 at 7:30pm Kim Dorman wrote:
I won't deny that Aram gives some of Dorn's work high praise. (Same for Creeley.) The question of Dorn's homophobia was raised by Thom. Of course, the question of whether or not Dorn (& Creeley) "lost their way" (as poets) in middle age is more more interesting one.

On April 24, 2009 at 7:45pm Joe Safdie wrote:
"There will always be advocates
& acolytes," writes Henry, "and
maybe they will prove right, in
the end." I'm certainly an
advocate, having published
several positive (and, I hope,
penetrating) articles about
Dorn's work, and I suppose I
could have been considered an
acolyte at one time as well, but
I prefer to think of our
relationship as a
friendship.About
Aram's article I can only say
that Abhorrences was
published in 1989. Is he
unfamiliar with Dorn's work of
the 90s, "Westward Haut"
(some of which is excerpted in
High West
Rendezvous), the
astonishing combination of
voices in "Languedoc Variorum,"
the profoundly moving
Chemo Sabe? And this
comments stream is profoundly
depressing because of the
endless garbage that keeps
getting recycled. I estimate
another two or three comments
before someone mentions the
"Aids Awards" article in
Rolling Stock, which
must be the source of most of
this malicious gossip. I attribute
it as well to a profound
misunderstanding of what
cultural satire is.I
don't think Poetry Flash
keeps electronic archives of its
material, but I had occasion to
review Abhorrences in
the early 90s, and I started the
review with an excerpt of an
interview between Tom Clark
and Dorn. Clark asked "In the
eighteenth century . . . didn't
literary contention often breed a
higher degree of focus and
perception? It seems that we've
lost that." And Dorn answers
"Completely. People were willing
to insult each other in that
century. All the time. It was a
total century of insult. And it
was a brilliant century. It
invented the modern. . . . I
mean, it's looked back on as
unsanitary. It's now looked back
on as arch, in this kind of
pernicious way."I'd
also recommend participants in
this "stream" to read -- or, for a
few, re-read -- William Hazlitt's
essay "On the Pleasures of
Hating." As Dorn had it in a
poem in Hello La Jolla,
"When I slam the door on your
finger / I'm only milking your
venom."But, you
know, things won't change.
People will believe what they
want to believe. Sometimes I
wonder what the purpose of
teaching argumentative rhetoric
is, when one sees those canons
violated every day, even in (or
especially in?) such venues as
this. Go ahead and load up the
ad hominems, kids --
better people than us used to
walk the earth. You should
study them.

On April 24, 2009 at 7:52pm Kim Dorman wrote:
Bravo, Joe.

On April 24, 2009 at 8:14pm Henry Gould wrote:
Why should it be depressing, Joe? Where are these articles on Dorn? If you can defend his poetry, all power to you. He & Clark are past masters at insider in-fighting, seems to me; on that score they don't need any help. Forget the "malicious gossip" : what's so good about the later poetry? I'd like to know, seriously. As for literary contention, I'd like to know what Clark thinks of Ralph Maud's recent anti-biography critique of his book on Chas. Olson. if that's not contention, I don't know what is.

On April 24, 2009 at 8:47pm Dale Smith wrote:
Henry, there's a lot to say, but a lot else to do right now, too. But I must say, Maud's obsession with Tom's biography of Olson does little to further the work of the Great Man.

I don't want to be "totally" dismissive of Maud, but I'd come pretty close: the weird obsessive hatred of Tom's work really gets in the way of a project that would have been really useful--an enhancement, or furthering, of the knowledge we have. The more visions of Olson there are, the better.

Peter Anastas' introduction to Maximus to Gloucester, by contrast, is really terrific, insightful, and not at pains to "correct" but willing to move the narrative forward in compelling ways.

On April 24, 2009 at 9:23pm Joe Safdie wrote:
Henry, I'm surprised, given our
long digital correspondence,
that you would think I'd
reference something that didn't
exist. For a comprehensive
article on Dorn as a love poet
(surprise!), check out
http://www.jacketmagazine.com
/25/safdie-dorn.html (there's a
way, I know, to make that a
link, but you can just as easily
paste it into your browser); for
another, more informal, article,
ask Dale to send you a digital
copy (if it exists) in Skanky
Possum, Issue #9,
Autumn/Winter 2003-04. I can
also send you the review I
referenced in my previous
comment if you ask me nicely.

On April 25, 2009 at 9:02am Kent Johnson wrote:
Henry,

You ask where critical works are on Dorn and Creeley? You work at the Hay at Brown. Surely you have access to some bibliographical tools! Just one suggestion for recent considerations of Dorn: a big special issue from Chicago Review a couple or three years back, Ed Dorn: American Heretic.

Also, I'm surprised no one has mentioned the somewhat rich irony of Saroyan dismissing Creeley's "minimalism" in Pieces.

Kent

On April 25, 2009 at 11:03am michael robbins wrote:
This is a non sequitur, Kim: "The comments about Dorn's "monstrous" and "hateful" homophobia remind me somewhat of the stir over Pound's "treasonous" fascism & his "vile" & "sordid" anti-semitism." I mean, OK. So? No one is arguing that one should disregard anyone's poetry because of the author's vicious prejudices. But are you suggesting that Pound's anti-Semitism is not vile or sordid? Or that Dorn's anti-homosexual bile is not hateful?

On April 25, 2009 at 12:12pm Joe Safdie wrote:
Michael, a long time ago in this
stream, Rich Jensen asked for
citation of what you've labeled
"Dorn's virulent, disgusting
anti-homosexual rantings" and
now his "anti-homosexual bile" -
- do you think you might
provide them so that they
might be properly addressed, or
do you just want to persist with
these ad hominem
generalizations learned through
hearsay?

On April 25, 2009 at 2:07pm Travis Nichols wrote:
As someone who for a time obsessively listened to Dorn reading "Gunslinger" while riding the bus (what a great voice!), I appreciated Saroyan's essay in part because it sent me back into the early work. Out again came my copy of "Way More West" (nice work, Dale!) and a pleasurable time with poetry was had by me. For anyone else who has a commute or a stoned hour or two:
http://www.writing.upenn.edu/pennsound/x/Dorn.php

And thanks, Aram, for directing my attention to the music.

On April 25, 2009 at 2:24pm michael robbins wrote:
Sorry, Joe, but anticipating that someone would mention the Rolling Stock bullshit doesn't get Dorn off the hook. It's like saying, I just know someone will get around to Pound's hatred of the Jews! If that's cultural satire, you're welcome to it. I have better things to do than try to understand why so many poets are invested in defending the vile actions of a man who was at his best a quite fine poet. I love The Cantos as much as any poem I've read, but I see no need to defend Pound's loopy & bilious views & actions in order to defend the poetry. (And I'm not the one who brought Pound into this.) Likewise, I'll defend Dorn's early poetry & Slinger no matter what he did. But even if I hadn't learned firsthand in Boulder what a nasty character he could be, I'd wonder what the hell would motivate anyone to even try to defend the viciousness of the AIDS Awards fiasco.

On April 25, 2009 at 3:16pm Terreson wrote:
Let's face it. Few lyric poets, poets working in the I/Thou range, enjoy a middle inflorescence. Fewer enjoy the late inflorescence. Goethe and Yeats enjoyed all three. Pound enjoyed the middle stage, especially with his Pisan Cantos. Kunitz got in the mood again in his late years. But they are the exceptions tending to prove the morphological rule of lyric poetry. Besides, without the fire in the belly there is no such insistent poetry anyway.

Terreson

On April 25, 2009 at 3:22pm Dale Smith wrote:
More notes on Dorn offered at http://possumego.blogspot.com not as defense, Michael, but as a continuation of an important conversation (otherwise we wouldn't all be here spinnin' our wheels).

On April 25, 2009 at 3:28pm Kim Dorman wrote:
Michael, perhaps my reading is wrong, but the first comment suggested a disregard of Dorn's later work in part because of its "hateful" homophobia. I brought up Pound because over the years I've met numerous persons who disregard the Cantos (some who even refuse to read them, based on their anit-semitic reputation) because of Pound's anti-semitism. Thus, I suggested -- naively no doubt -- a parallel. My bad. And apologies for the misunderstanding.

On April 25, 2009 at 4:05pm Kent Johnson wrote:
Yes, I'm curious what Joe might say to put the sad AIDS comments in a "better" light. I like what Dale is doing at his blog to give more context to Dorn's rhetoric, politics, and satire in the later work. But I'd certainly agree with Michael that the Rolling Stock material was reprehensible. My guess is that Dorn would regret it by now, were he alive. Joe, since you knew him (and Dale, too), it would be good to know if he ever spoke to you about this?

That said, there is also the tendency to take the most sordid aspects from a poet's biography and use these as an excuse to disparage or ignore his or her work in general. Poets may have a greater incidence of sordid character quirks than most occupational groups, and a history of how some have suffered *poetic* rejection for their failings more than others, and why, would make for a pretty interesting book.

Why do some get smeared more or less complete, while others rarely get called out, or get quasi-pardoned by certain poetic tendencies, who continue to praise and venerate them? One thinks of Spicer, for example, who was acutely anti-Semitic; or Seidel, the new rage, arguably quite misogynist; or Baraka, whose anti-Semitism is on record, not to mention his defense of the crimes of Maoism; or Ginsberg, long-time member of a militant group promoting pedophilia; even William Carlos Williams, who cheered somewhat gleefully over the obliteration of Hiroshima; or certain prominent "post-avant" poets, why not mention this, too, who sat on the fence when daisy-cutter bombs rained down all across Afghanistan, killing thousands of innocents (a "dilemma," it was said, impossible to know what to do), or uttered not a peep during the criminal assault on Gaza; Oppen's Stalinism; Stein's opportunistic coziness with the Vichy; Stevens's outright racism; Zukofsky's manipulative mistreatment of Niedecker; Olson's misogyny; Whitman's anti-Mexican imperialist jingoism; Eliot's hateful pathologies; or on and on (and that's just a very short list from the U.S.-- Dante, Rimbaud, Neruda, etc., not exactly nice people-- spend a few hours ticking off the names). The point being that some people get passes (or partial passes), while others don't...

Poets can be complicated individuals with lots of skeletons in the basement-- and sometimes these (were it not so!) are the greatest writers.

Kent

On April 25, 2009 at 4:23pm michael robbins wrote:
Yeah, Kent, but no one's using Dorn's biography to disparage the work. Yes, Eliot was an anti-Semite, Stevens a racist, etc., etc. So what? I don't see the point. Dorn was an anti-homosexual bigot. I remember not getting why you said something similar to Joshua once on Harriet. Because other poets had nasty character traits, Dorn's don't count? Like, this guy over here is a fascist. But wait, plenty of other people were fascists too, so let's not harp on it too much.

On April 25, 2009 at 4:33pm Kent Johnson wrote:
Michael,

I think you misunderstand me (maybe I just didn't put it well): I'm agreeing with you on the Rolling Stock issue, and say so. What I'm suggesting is that poets and poetic formations can be selective in their indignations.

That doesn't seem very controversial to me.

Kent

On April 25, 2009 at 4:51pm michael robbins wrote:
I guess I don't see the alternative to being selective in one's indignations, if one is to be indignant about anything at all. Pound's & Stevens's bigotries (to say nothing of Dante's!) seem to me much less relevant to us & our practices than Dorn's do. Plus there's the whole thing where this is a thread about Ed Dorn, not those other people. I'm not particularly interested in being some kind of PC watchman; all I ever said was that "homophobia" is too polite a phrase for Dorn's prejudices, which it is.

On April 25, 2009 at 4:55pm Dale Smith wrote:
Michael Robbins writes that "Dorn was an anti-homosexual bigot." This is utter bull shit. He was anti-everything, a true egalitarian on that score.

Dale

On April 25, 2009 at 5:05pm Boyd Nielson wrote:
“He was anti-everything, a true egalitarian on that score.”

I think that is precisely what Michael meant when he said that doesn’t see the alternative to being selective in one's indignations, if one is to be indignant about anything at all. There is nothing egalitarian about being against everything, not least because as a position it is indistinguishable from being against nothing whatsoever.

On April 25, 2009 at 5:11pm Joe Safdie wrote:
It's not for me to defend Dorn,
although I take another stab at
explaining what some are
calling his "homophobia" on
Dale's blog. Keith Tuma has an
interesting essay on the late
work in the issue of the Chicago
Review that Kent referenced
above; relevant to this
discussion, Tuma reprints in it
Dorn's late poem "Dismissal,"
which is about Ezra Pound. He
also calls the choice of name for
the "Lemon/AIDS Awards"
"sophomoric, stupid and cruel"
-- which it might have been.
But it's a different thing to
quarrel about a headline than
the whole of a misunderstood
satiric piece, an intentional
"over-the-top thumbs-down
sign handed out for behavior
Dorn . . . didn't want to
tolerate." So just one thing
more: the poet who received
one of those "awards" -- and
who later died of AIDS -- was
Steve Abbott, a friend of many
of us who lived in the Bay Area
at the time. In the summer of
1982, I drove with four or five
people, including Steve, from
San Francisco to Boulder and
back for some sort of "Beat
Convocation." Steve and I went
over to the Dorn's house twice
during that event, and Ed was
unfailingly gracious, hospitable
and friendly to Steve, whom he
had never met. My point,
inasmuch as I have one, is: it
was never personal; it was
always about ideas. Satire isn't
personal either. The Dunciad
isn't about Colly Cibber -- it's
about the end of the world.

On April 25, 2009 at 5:18pm Kent Johnson wrote:
Michael, My point is, actually, to suggest that poets and groups very "relevant to us & our practice" are guided by an often troubling, and killing, self-righteousness. The problem, precisely, is that your position--holding up an unfortunate act of Dorn's for strong censure, while still being able to look at the work with respect and grant its tremendous value--is a fairly advanced one in the "post-avant" field, sad as it is that such common sense might be called "advanced."

But Dorn is for many simply verboten en toto, and mainly because they've come to "learn" that he's a kind of Untouchable.

Kent

On April 25, 2009 at 5:22pm Kent Johnson wrote:
Sorry, and meant to say above that everyone should check out Dale Smith's last post on Possum Ego, which returns us squarely to the beginning of the discussion, which was about Saroyan's too-easy dismissal of the later work of Creeley and Dorn.

Kent

On April 25, 2009 at 5:23pm michael robbins wrote:
Dale - Being "anti-everything" includes being "anti-homosexual" definitionally. Plus he wasn't actually anti-everything, plus that is a meaningless category, plus if it had any meaning it would be juvenile. Plus saying it's "utter bullshit" is very kind of you & all, but I fail to discern the argument you're advancing.

Joe - My grandfather once gave a Burning Cross Award to someone who was later murdered by the Klan. But he was nice to the guy when he saw him around town, so he wasn't a racist.

Seriously, I'm sure Dorn's bigotries were complex, as Pound's about Jews were -- Seidel tells the hilarious story of having to ask Pound to make sure that when he, the Jewish Seidel, came to visit, Pound's charming neo-Nazi buddy wouldn't be around. Pound complied, & later sent Seidel postcards asking him to intervene with the president of Harvard, who was ruining the school by letting in too many kikes.

Kent - Fair enough. I'm not interested in the question, really, beyond noting that it shouldn't just be whitewashed.

On April 25, 2009 at 5:46pm Joe Safdie wrote:
Maybe the last comment should
be Jenny Dorn's, in an article
she wrote about the history of
Rolling Stock: "And we got into
trouble once more by publishing
Tom Clark's 'Lemon/Aids awards
for Poetry in recognition of the
current Epidemic of Idiocy on
the poetry scene.' Ed could
never resist an opportunity to
expose fuzzy thinking and
undermine the status quo, but
in this case one could argue
that his editorial judgment
bordered on bad taste." In other
words, the article was written
by Tom, and Ed just published
it. By that logic, anyone who
published a work by Pound
would be an anti-Semite . . .
which isn't to say that Tom is
homophobic either. Such labels
miss the point. Sorry about
your grandfather, Michael, but
do check out my comment on
Dale's blog.

On April 25, 2009 at 6:32pm michael robbins wrote:
A weird defense, to be sure. Let's see if I've got this straight. If I run a small magazine & I publish a neo-Nazi manifesto, I'm not to be held responsible in any respect. OK. Look, nobody is defending identity politics or multiculturalism or what have you. I usually find myself on the other end of these arguments, with those who, like Tom Clark, want to oppose the liberal end of the spectrum from the left. But it's just stupefying that people are bending over backwards to explain away the cruelty of publishing a stupid article that mocks the deaths of people the publisher thinks are stupid. There's this weird strain of puritanical avant-gardism around here: God forbid someone criticize Edward Dorn for something he did or said! Anyway, that's all I got to say. If you think it's "utter bullshit," I'm glad to know what positions you think are worth fighting for.

On April 25, 2009 at 7:52pm Dale Smith wrote:
Michael, I'm sorry if "utter bullshit" hurt your feelings. I sensed a confidence in your condemnation of Dorn that I find weird. It's one thing to "criticize" and another to dismiss. Surely you understand the difference. I was trying to expand on Dorn's antithetical positions in my response to you---and these are clearly stated in Ed Dorn Live. But anyway, this thread has digressed far from its original purpose---and not in useful ways. Please move the conversation backchannel if you're interested--or maybe continue at possumego.

On April 25, 2009 at 8:13pm michael robbins wrote:
Well, speaking of "bullshit," I'd love to know in what way I "dismissed" Dorn. Since if you'll read instead of throwing around insults you'll easily discover that I said many times that I wasn't disparaging the work. There is no "conversation" here for me to take backchannel -- just me pointing out the obvious (that Dorn had no trouble making fun of people who were dying for their sexual orientation) & you finding that "weird." Seems we're at an impasse, one that fails to interest me.

On April 25, 2009 at 8:50pm Dale Smith wrote:
Well, Michael, that's one way to receive an apology---and to shut down a conversation.

On April 26, 2009 at 11:37am Kent Johnson wrote:
Michael, you're publishing criticism in places like Poetry, Chicago Review, London Review of Books, Boston Review, and so on. For the tenth anniversary of his death, later this year, I think you should write an essay on Dorn, what you admire, or don't, in his work, and discuss the Rolling Stock fiasco in that context, perhaps taking up the AIDS scandal and its meaning for Dorn's broader reputation *in relation* to the countless disturbing acts and beliefs associated with other major writers (those "still relevant to us & our practice," as you say). Does Dorn, for example, deserve more general contempt for the incident than, say, Spicer deserves such for his virulent anti-Semitism, or Ginsberg deserves it for his wretched promotion of NAMBLA (the last two examples hardly ever mentioned by "post-avant" writers, while Dorn gets widely subjected to vicious rebuke). This would be interesting to consider, particularly against the background of Dorn's antipathies towards Language writing, his early critiques of its "bureaucratic" tendencies, and the ways that critique might be seen as importantly affecting his current "reception." (You can put that last sentence in bold, if you want.)****

Dale and Joe, both of you knew Dorn, and you have an intimacy with his work rivaled by few. For the tenth anniversary of his death, as well, I think you should each write an essay focusing on the same issues I suggest to Michael above, but with special attention to the late work and its satirical drift, taking stock, with candor and honesty (because I know this is how you want to treat it), of the Rolling Stock controversy and its regrettable nature, bringing in, if possible, some fresh reminiscences by Tom Clark on the whole matter (the last would obviously be a valuable addition to Dorn studies).****

If we were to get something like this from each of you, the disputes here will have been worth it.

Kent

On April 26, 2009 at 8:58pm Henry Gould wrote:
Joe,

I think you misunderstood me - I certainly wasn't questioning the existence of your articles defending Dorn's later work! Not at all. I was simply asking for the references. Kent says I should do that myself, since I work in a library. Well, OK, I was trying to have a conversation, Kent. But thanks, yes, for reminding me that I work in a library.

I read Ralph Maud's book. Got me wondering about Clark's motivations (since there does seem to be something of a biographer's animus - something like Poe's Griswold, or Frost's "authorized" biographer - who tore him to shreds). Curious about that. I don't know enough about it. I'm not condemning Clark or anyone else.

But that's a whole different story.

On April 26, 2009 at 9:12pm Henry Gould wrote:
Highly recommended, with reference to this issue of the poet's "ethos" (in relation to the value & validity of the poems themselves) :

Jeffrey Walker / Bardic Ethos and the American Epic Poem (Louisiana State Univ. Press, 1989). A skeptical analysis of the Whitman project, of which Pound, WC Williams, Olson, and Dorn are offspring. In Walker's terms, the "sacerdotal bard" must present & represent an ethical stance in charismatic & convincing opposition to the norms of the national culture. Dorn's iconoclastic & abrasive political attitudes could be interpreted as a fulfillment of the ethical "counter-norms" stipulated by Whitman, Pound & Olson in particular.

On April 26, 2009 at 9:15pm Terreson wrote:
I swear I can't figure what the fuss is all about. Creeley was no hero. He compromised himself just like many of the poets of his generation. And Dorn was no gun slinger, except maybe in a rich interior life.

To me this is all testosterone talk guy poets are given to. Personally, I don't know if Dorn was homophoebic. I do know he brought attention to Kentucky hill poverty and illnesses brought about by coal mine industries. As for Creeley he said a big thing that still impacts the scene. He said: form is nothing more than an extension of content.

How much exactly do ya'll require of your poets?

Terreson

On April 26, 2009 at 10:04pm Dale Smith wrote:
Henry, interesting to see you mention Walker's terrific book: he's my diss advisor and continues to give me much to consider in these matters. His Rhetoric and Poetics in Antiquity (Oxford, 2000) is also essential reading for anyone looking at the history of poetic theory and practice.

On April 27, 2009 at 12:22pm Boyd Nielson wrote:
Henry asks me upstream whether Saroyan’s piece is really a dismissal, and I may as well take the opportunity to say, to be sure, it is not. My point above was just that there must be other—that is, better—ways of talking about the shifts in late Dorn and Creeley than to slip into pseudo-hagiography by claiming that they “lost their way” and then by blaming that on, no less, willfulness and drugs. I don’t have anything more to add, specifically, and the last thing I want to do is to reopen what has already been said well at Possum Ego (which I very much appreciate). But, although I initially joined in here to say Kent was right, that endorsement should be understood as meaning just that Dorn needs to be read more, not less. I don’t see what difference it makes in this particular case to consider whether Dorn “deserve[s] more general contempt for the incident than, say, Spicer deserves…for his virulent anti-Semitism, or Ginsberg deserves…for his wretched promotion of NAMBLA.” Or, even if it made a difference, what placing Dorn against a backdrop of equally or ever more contemptible commitments and prejudices (ah, Heidegger!) is supposed to clarify—beyond, again, repeating that Dorn should be read. And no one needs to be reminded that Kent is using this as another opportunity to rehearse his own antipathies towards Language writing and the so-called “post-avant” scene. It is understandable and enviable that many here (and that includes Saroyan) have strong commitments that follow from close personal relationships and, just as importantly, an esteem (very much justifiable) for Dorn’s poetry. It may be that poets and critics require a certain amount of each even to begin their work. But I think a more thorough reading (and I don’t have one to offer) of what is happening in late Creeley and Dorn would require a scope that does not see admiration and approval as necessary conditions either for valuing a body of work or for interpreting it.

On April 27, 2009 at 1:27pm Annie Finch wrote:
For the record:

What Creeley said, in full, was "form is never more than an extension of content, and content never more than an extension of form."

It was Olson who cut out the second part of the statement when he reproduced it in an essay. This distressed Creeley, and he long wanted the record set straight, as he confirmed to me the summer before his death.

Annie

On April 27, 2009 at 6:54pm Terreson wrote:
Thanks, Annie Finch, for the info. I confess, however, it still amounts to the same smell, so to speak, to my sense. The big lesson I took from Creeley's dictum is that the two, form and content, cannot be separated out without killing the poem's gestalt. I guess Olson would have called it the poem's energy field. But thanks again. You give support to how I took the Creeley comment.

Thinking associatively, and to sweeten the pot a little, there is something Cocteau said, maybe about the time Creeley was born, and much to the same point:

"To cultivate one's thought - to learn to shape and handle it - is to cultivate one's style. Looked at from any other point of view, style merely makes for obscurity and acts as a drag."

Substitute the word form for style and I'll bet a dollar on a donut Creeley would have nodded affirmatively, instinctively.

All forms start out nonce, improv like, a one time try.

Terreson

On April 27, 2009 at 9:30pm Michael Robbins wrote:
I do hope everyone's aware that this notion is hardly original with Creeley. I mean, it's in Aristotle! And it's all over the place in the 18th century; in the 20th century many, many critics proposed a similar idea long before Creeley did (see René Wellek for instance).

On April 27, 2009 at 11:14pm Dale Smith wrote:
Michael, I think a lot of us are familiar with Aristotle's Poetics (and Rhetoric), though it might be generous of you to show how that more specifically connects (for you) to Olson/Creeley's statement, which I take as a restatement of the ancient rhetorical material in a modernist context. I've been thinking that one reason Aristotle and company aren't on the tips of every poet's tongue these days is because of a certain generational hostility to rhetoric that happened in the 30s, 40s, 50s as people, for example, like Duncan revolted against their education (I know Olson was trained in debate and rhetoric, and that he resisted the teachings of the sophists--I'm not sure about Creeley's background in same). They were looking for new terms to situate their poetics.

The other night I heard the venerable W. S. Merwin read and sometime during the evening he declared that poetry wasn't about communication. It did something else--exploring the poet's perceptions of time and the brevity of life, etc (which still, in terms of communication, falls under what Aristotle labeled the epideictic mode of rhetoric, though you know this). Anyhoo, this is all just to say that I find the Creeley/Olson statement a product of the cultural period more than an enduring expression of formalist poetics or whatever. Maybe others have some thoughts on this....

On April 28, 2009 at 6:58am Henry Gould wrote:
Dale, I may be wrong, but I thought Olson favored the Sophist approach (say, pragmatic applied rhetoric), while criticizing what he thought of as the "wrong turn" of systematic Platonic/Aristotelian philosophical rationality. Maximus of Tyre, his model for "Maximus", was a practicing sophist.

On April 28, 2009 at 7:42am Dale Smith wrote:
Henry, I think you're right about Olson, though I'm not sure he would have thought of it this way. Somewhere--and my books are packed--he puts down the Sophists. Perhaps many places, though I could be confusing this with sophistry. I think O wanted to move way back of the Greco-Roman, and so would have found all of the early rhetorician-philosophers a bit too close to the colonizing western mind thing he abhored. But some of the recent revivals of the Sophists might be aligned more sympathetically with his project.

On April 28, 2009 at 8:20am Henry Gould wrote:
I'd like to see someone explore Dorn's work as in the line of "epic poetry", stemming from Whitman, as laid out by Michael A. Bernstein & Jeffrey Walker, among others.

*****I mean one way to look at what Aram Saroyan is saying here, might be that he is measuring Dorn's later work in the context of the lyric poem, whereas perhaps Dorn was writing something more like "meta-lyrics" - because he was fundamentally in the shamanic-epic line out of Whitman/Pound/Olson. The shaman-bard wears the mantle of the histor-sage : oracular speech which challenges EVERY assumption, EVERY convention, EVERY mode of rational discourse, on behalf of an "originary" vision of how things are. Taking on this kind of archaic prestige maybe requires breaking the aesthetic boundaries of what is considered the lyric poem.

***** I think also something like this stance underlies Olson's (Creeley's) formula ("form is never more than an extension of content"). In a sense, Olson was saying, "When I speak as the oracular shaman-bard (Maximus), EVERY SYLLABLE is the oracle-poem; my very breath breathes the cosmic vision; conventional received poetic "form" is rendered irrelevant here." (Basically an Emersonian stance, taken up by Whitman.)

**** Not being an expert on Dorn, or even well acquainted, I'm walking in the dark here. But it seems like, unlike some of the other Long Poem honchos, Dorn maintained an interest in the lyric (viz. his late focus on the Troubadours). So what I meant by "meta-lyric" : looking at Dorn's short poems through this Poundian "epic" frame - of the iconoclastic, fierce, fundamentally unaccountable shaman-mask. His interest in the Shoshone & western Indian culture would feed into that too : the shaman there was traditionally almost predictably iconoclastic & difficult of approach.

On April 28, 2009 at 8:57am Dale Smith wrote:
Henry, let me think this over some. You're right about the impulse in Dorn's work, and the need to situate the claims of poetic authority in the Shamanic-Bardic tradition via Whitman. But he makes a clear break with lyricism with Slinger, and by the time of Hello, La Jolla, and Abhorrences, the satiric epigram replaces any sense of lyric. In an interview in the recent Ed Dorn Live he talks about his reading in 18th c. rhetoric, and seems to be looking for a way out of the Whitmanic authority lineage. It may be the case, however, that even as he looked for other models of poetry that could effectively address public concerns without resorting to the lyric-bard pose, he nonetheless retained an ethos position reinforced by the Whitman-Pound-Olson line (this is what his audience was used to--and it's a hard bardic habit to break after more than a century of such transmission). Thanks for bringing Walker's work into this: it's a good direction.

On April 28, 2009 at 9:12am Kent Johnson wrote:
Henry and Dale,

Terrifically interesting stuff.

Dale also has a good post on late Creeley today on his blog, with links to some reviews of RC's later work (Clark, Gander, Perloff).

Kent

On April 28, 2009 at 9:15am Henry Gould wrote:
That's very interesting, Dale. (I was just about to go down into the library basement here & look for the Ed Dorn Live book.)

******I have mixed feelings about J. Walker's definitely fine book. Have problems with reducing poetry to a type of discourse or rhetoric, no matter how effective it might prove to be in a political sense.

******* For me poetry shapes a "form" which is sui generis. You can compare it to sculpture or painting or music, but the comparison is limited. The closest approximation for me is drama, the dramatic gesture. The form of the poem, as an event, can be related by analogy to other conceptual forms - the"form" of history, the "form" of nature : but poetry is not reducible to the rhetorical argument it makes - because its form is not strictly verbal or discursive.

*******Possibly Dorn was struggling with this as well (just speculation).

On April 28, 2009 at 9:59am Dale Smith wrote:
Henry, that's a good point, and I think the argument you make is used by a lot people to distinguish the aesthetic or formal realm of the poem from other aspects of communication--from rhetoric, I suppose. My own thoughts on this have been shaped by years now of rhetorical study, and I basically agree with Kenneth Burke's arguments from long ago, that poetry or any literature is epideictic communication that possesses formal or dramatistic (Burke's term) aspects that can develop a reader's capacities to live in the world. A poem can influence belief and desire, and prepare us for other encounters down the road beyond the range of the poem. Form to me always seems to arrive from some prior motive, and it's just this motive that gives an artwork its rhetorical reach beyond the formal attributes. Motive and context combined give rhetorical stress to the formal object. Burke's Counter-Statement remains really valuable on all of this, though I don't really want to be identified as a Burkean.

On April 28, 2009 at 11:00am Henry Gould wrote:
That's a very clear statement, Dale, thanks. & I don't find much to argue with it. But still I have this resistance to bracketing poetry - to assigning the origin of its form to a clear motive.

********I'm reading a lot of Geoffrey Hill right now. In an essay on GM Hopkins he strongly defends "protest poetry"; asserts the close affinities between poetry & politics: & writes, "Civil polity is.... poetry's natural habitat." He too was deeply engaged with the 18th-cent. poets (Dryden especially). Yet reading through all his essays, there is a sense (I feel) of walking a fine line between poetry as either (simply) political or a-political. He's suspicious of how it gets enlisted into fashionable ideologies-du-jour. He focuses on the intractable, the difficult, the broken, the guilty, the divided. He focuses on the gap between language as abstract sign and the irreducible singularity of things (Hopkins' "inscape", Scotus's "haeccitas") - which rhetoric tends to elide, and which poetry tries to acknowledge or represent (as far as possible).

********Anyway, I would probably agree with most of your "Burkean" analysis. But I would try to hold out some kind of concept following Aristotle's theory of imitation. The source of the Muses is Memory. The poem is an affective re-enactment or re-presentation of experience, and as such it aims for its own "form" of wholeness. It's not the "finish" represented by a successful argument or rhetorical motive. In fact it might seem to FAIL in that very sense. But its gnarled, contradictory failure as "argument" might signal its success as a re-presentation of life.

On April 28, 2009 at 12:05pm Michael Boughn wrote:
Excuse me, but what does any of this have to do with poetry. It's all bullshit. Including Saroyan's bullshit opinions about Robert Creeley and Edward Dorn's late poetry. Other poets (as opposed to self-righteous intellectual puritan bullshitters) will still be reading that work when this bullshit will be nothing more than vague whiffs of flatus in the winds of eternity.

On April 28, 2009 at 1:44pm Kirby Olson wrote:
I enjoyed the comments here. I didn't know if Aram Saroyan's remark that both of these poets had "lost their way," simply meant something like they had stepped off the Shining Path of Leftism, or not.

Perhaps that's the case?

At first Dorn was solidly in that camp, and was high on his horse well into the seventies. I remember reading a phenomenally awful poem that Dorn wrote in which he indicated that Caspar Weinberger should be hanged, apparently for having been a rightie.

No one probably objects to that except me. I don't think the opposition should be hanged! It's wrong to think like that.

I liked his later poems the best. There, he finally trained his guns on the academic left and their nefarious groupthink careerist m.o.s, laughing all the way, and I thought: hah, here's at least one point who's taken a look at his actual surroundings, and didn't like it much.

Maybe that's what's meant by his stepping off the Shining Path. I wasn't too sure about what it meant. Maybe it just meant that the writer didn't enjoy the content of Dorn's later poems.

I don't know Creeley's later work as well as I do Dorn's. He's not very specific about what it is that he dislikes about Creeley or Dorn's later work, but I just wonder if they are not so aberrantly on the Shining Path to dictatorial communism, not as much with the program, as they once were?

People do grow up.

On April 28, 2009 at 2:54pm bill sherman wrote:
am in agreement with mike boughn's quick post....and re: Dorn, the first 2 books of GUNSLINGER are groundbreaking work, his "spiritual address" which, as he had said, NORTH ATLANTIC TURBINE, freed him up to write. The shifting intellectual discourses within the narrative structure rarely had been accomplished previously, and never to that extent. His next book, RECOLLECTIONS OF GRAN APACHERIA is a gem, a major work of American poetry in the last quarter of the century, as surely as W.S. Merwin's long and greatest book, THE FOLDING CLIFFS, is. Despite his prejudices, Dorn's late work like LANGUEDOC, and the bravery of CHEMO SABE, effectively refute Aram Saroyan's testy and nasty little shout. Sure, there is "The Air Of June Sings" and "The Rick Of Green Wood" and many lovely early lyrics, but the work from his OXFORD poem in TURBINE onwards demonstrates an assured weightand measure and tonal achievment and beauty which his detractors and those who have ignored his work refuse to acknowledge since it is so threatening to their vested and reified positions and beliefs.

On April 28, 2009 at 3:51pm Henry Gould wrote:
As I predicted, here come the acolytes, the true believers. Everybody else better get out of the way; they're going to tell you how it really is.

On April 28, 2009 at 7:41pm Michael Robbins wrote:
Is that first mouth-breather ("flatus" indeed!) trying to say that those of us who have dared to sully the name of the deity are not poets? Let's see, Dale, Kent, Henry, me, Joe ... is Boyd a poet? Anyway, most people posting here are also (rather good) poets. So, uh. Let us by all means pretend that criticism is a worthless enterprise, & continue to believe in inflationary romantic vatic notions of Poetry with a capital p, & if you say something against a Poet, we do not need arguments to shut you down. We will simply issue pronouncements about eternity from Olympus, no matter how silly we may sound. This thread just got elevated to "must-avoid" status. See ya.

On April 29, 2009 at 1:47am Dale Smith wrote:
Actually, the bullshit ain't so much the problem as the sausage that's slingin' around here. Anyway, the Big Man Vision is cooked in the terms He gave it. We are in recovery, grappling toward some strain of wisdom the future forbids and the past withholds. The present conditions stick to us though. I'm glad I never knew Olson--hardly knew Dorn. The impersonal remains the only possibility. Around it we negotiate much.

On April 29, 2009 at 10:13am Dale Smith wrote:
I can't let this statement from April 25 sit because it so distorts the situation. Michael Robbins, in a rare moment of self-righteous blow-hardedness said: "But it's just stupefying that people are bending over backwards to explain away the cruelty of publishing a stupid article that mocks the deaths of people the publisher thinks are stupid." He's referring the the LemonAIDS awards distributed in an ancient issue of Rolling Stock. For the record: No Deaths were Mocked. As a friend recalls, the satire was aimed at perfectly-healthy-at-the-time poets' propensities for career back-scratching, self-importance and self-aggrandizement in a deliberately over-the-top, cartoonish, outrageous way, reflecting Dorn's delight in eighteenth-century Grub Street and Swiftian satire. What I had hoped to open up on my blog was a discussion of Dorn's poetry of the 80s since that's what's under fire here in Saroyan's essay. This continuing distortion of the record doesn't contribute anything. In fact, it furthers willful distortions, continuing a kind of character assassination of Dorn that Silly Men push to dismiss a significant American poet, probably because he intimidates them. What has been defended, Michael, isn't your accusations of homophobia, but the memory of a poet whose name is hounded and abused by people misinformed by facts, hearsay, and who possess only a passing concern for the work--a body of work that, in the 80s especially, present some challenging things worth addressing.

On April 29, 2009 at 10:32am Kim Dorman wrote:
Bravo, Dale.

On April 29, 2009 at 11:16am Curtis Faville wrote:
I've stumbled late into this interminable
discussion regarding Dorn and Creeley.

Aram's quick graph recycles some
respective biographical cliches
regarding these two late elder poets,
with some anecdotal teasers, which do
not do much to prove or support his
unelaborated thesis regarding the
decline of their "careers". It's an
opinion piece, not a critical explanation,
and should be treated as such.

It is obvious to anyone who read
Creeley's and Dorn's work over the
years, that each began as slightly
quaint lyric practitioners, producing
short, vivid poems inspired by the work
of WCW, Pound, Wyatt, Campion, the
Objectivists (among others). Creeley
refined and distilled his method
progressively, until he arrived at what
now looks, in retrospect, to have been
a dead end (Pieces); IMHO, Pieces is a
great book, the fulfillment of half a
lifetime's concentration and intensity,
but it WAS an end. It looks now, that
he kept on writing almost out of
habitual determination, producing work
that seemed to lack the focus and
concision of his earlier career (with, as
always, the occasional exception [e.e.,
Thirty Things, Black Sparrow, 1974]. It
wasn't bad work, it just wasn't as
amazingly diverting as before. There
are clear biographical developments
which explain a lot of this event, which
no one seems interested in
acknowledging: If the work should
reflect the reality of the life, then
certainly we should be willing to admit
that better work may depend upon a
happy set of circumstances, just as an
unfortunate fate may trigger bile and
vinegar.

Dorn's fine bitterness was evident as
early as North Atlantic Turbine [1967].
I once listened to a recording of that
whole book he did, and my dominant
impression (this would have been in
about 1969) was: Here was a man so
cynical and sardonic that it would be
impossible to imagine him doing or
saying anything optimistic about the
world or his place in it. Hence, it was
no surprise to me, when, after the
abort/ed/ive epic Gunslinger [1968 &
c.], his work entered the tortuous
passageways of satire, burlesque and
grunge.

One must continually remember that
biographical inconsistencies do NOT
have ANY EFFECT WHATSOEVER upon
the quality or significance of a writer's
work. Pound's work is neither better
nor worse to any degree as a result of
any of his opinions or actions as a man
in the world. It is perfectly possible to
be a revolting and disgusting and dirty
and mean and nasty human being, and
still produce lasting, edifying work of
greatness & beauty. Period.

It was interesting to me to see how
politically correct many have become in
the present prickly context of aesthetic
debate, where right thinking is a
prerequisite to "polite" intercourse, and
only pre-approved subscribers may
apply for membership.

Should Creeley have kept on pinching
out tight little lyrics til the bitter end?
Should Dorn have settled down to a
comfy adjunct professorship at UCLA?
Obviously not.

The reputation and work of each should
be meticulously, and respectfully, and
accurately, considered. Just as with
Pound, every attempt to understand the
contradictions and failures of will and
character should be weighed and
measured and judged. But the work
will or won't stand ON ITS OWN
MERITS.

On April 29, 2009 at 12:36pm Kent Johnson wrote:
Curtis,

Interesting comment and with valuable observations.

In someone like Dorn, though, where satire and rejection of decorum is a key component of the writing, biography and the "work itself" overlap in aggressive, often self-conscious ways, and such overlap necessarily comes to mediate the work's reading and reception-- in ways, I'm pretty sure, that Dorn himself foresaw and intended.

For example, back in the 80s and early 90s, I don't think Dorn gave a rat's bottom whether or not the Language poets and their acolytes read his work "ON ITS OWN MERITS," in some kind of traditional textual sense. Likely he knew they wouldn't and couldn't, after he warned (quite early on--some might call it prescience) that the Langpos were destined to become "Poet bureaucrats." And likely he knew--and it's clearly become the case--that his sternly stated antipathies would cause many down the road to shun him and work outright-- or understand, in vaguely assimilated ways, that they *should.*

In other words, it's problematic to propose Dorn can be fully understood and appreciated through the "work itself." He is, especially in late career, a curmudgeonly, maddening *poetic persona,* where public stance and the work purposefully interlock and rhetoric (as in Abhorrences) is wielded as weapon against conformity-- including its "progressive," "avant" guises.

He's still paying the price for it, and one he invited, as perhaps American poetry's great satirist of the late 20th century. The poetry becomes much more than aesthetic performance, that is, and can't so simply, or merely, be judged by the pure critical principles you seem to urge.

Kent

On April 29, 2009 at 12:55pm Dale Smith wrote:
Kent, this is terrific: the work must be read in relation to the complexity of the situations it arrived in and addressed.

On April 29, 2009 at 1:11pm Curtis Faville wrote:
This is the biographical fallacy.

We don't know what kind of man
Shakespeare was, but it's a sure thing
that if we could, every Tom Dick &
Harry would be urging us to reconsider
the work in light of these new
"revelations"!!

Balderdash!

In 500 years, if we're still around, what
will people think of The Cantos? What
will anyone know or remember about
Pound the man? What do we know
about Confucius? Plato?

My point is that the living-breathing
man who made the work is forever
separate from it. Each work acquires
an independent life once it enters the
world. The author can neither control
what ultimately happens to it, nor can
we guarantee or be certain what
posterity may know or guess about the
"real facts" (or the Author) which/who
produced it.

Dorn's work is nothing if not an
"aesthetic performance". The work and
the career don't "interlock" to any
meaningful degree. What may happen,
however, is that the timely and
ephemeral issues upon which such
work is based or depends, may fade
over time, leaving posterity in the dark
about what or why or who?

I always had trouble understanding
Dryden's "issues" and hence his work
has always been to some extent closed
to appreciation for me. This is a
perennial problem: How to be timely
and/or simultaneously timeless.
Thornton Wilder wrestled with this all
his life, and his failures are all
attributable, in my view, to his failure to
resolve it.

If Abhorrences can't be appreciated
without a forest of footnotes, it's
unlikely it will live for very long. But
whether or not its author was a nice
guy, or offended people (deliberately or
not) is really irrelevant in the long run.
Offending people can occur on purpose,
or by accident; the work doesn't
depend upon who's been offended, or
not.

On April 29, 2009 at 1:54pm Henry Gould wrote:
This debate (Kent/Curtis) reminds of some writings by RS Crane, about how critical approaches are going to vary, depending on the critic's aims, & that there is not always only one valid approach.

****** Tradition and classic literature teach us something about the integrity & self-contained wholeness of great art, and this becomes a kind of benchmark for all poetry. On the other hand, there are limits to the Olympian view (how many of us can read the future? Or read poetry from a timeless perspective?). Homer & Shakespeare made evergreen art, but they were also up to their necks in the immediacy of their time & place, and their works address those particulars of the situation. It seems valid to me to take context into account, along with the more inherent or aesthetic facets of a work of art....

On April 29, 2009 at 3:05pm michael robbins wrote:
Dale, it is perfectly obvious that
granting "AIDS Awards" makes mock of
the disease & by extension those who
had died & were dying from it. What do
you need for this to be clearer to you?
The implication of the article is "We
hope the following people get this
disease"? What else does it MEAN to
give someone an "AIDS award"? All in
jest, of course, I'm sure Dorn didn't
want anyone to get AIDS. (Sure is too
bad someone on the list ended up dying
of the disease! Hope he appreciated the
joke.)

This is too much special pleading on yr
part, Dale. You take words that are
perfectly intelligible in their context
("mocking the deaths") & then point out
that the piece does not literally mock
any deaths because at no point does it
say "This dude died from AIDS & we
hereby mock his death." I hadn't
realized you were such a literalist.
Tropes, figures, metaphors, schema --
quite beside the point?

I was convinced when this began that
you were acting in good faith, Dale. But
you've since gone out of yr way to
deny that Dorn's writings express any
bigotry whatsoever about
homosexuality. But more than that,
you've gone out of yr way to personally
insult me. Which is odd, given our
previous interactions. How about you
drop yr little campaign against me & I'll
sign whatever statement will appease
yr conscience? I am not intimidated by
Edward Dorn's poetry, & for you to
suggest that that is my motivation for
raising perfectly valid questions about
that poetry is the final straw. How about
we skip the part where I get all
psychological about why you're so
eager to smear anyone who raises the
least criticism about Dorn & move
straight to the part where we each
agree that the other is an ass & is not
worth entering into further debate with?

Curtis's comments are completely
irrelevant. No one here has said the
work is impinged upon by the
biography. No one here has denied that
great works written by vicious men are
any less great for that. No one here has
suggested anything other than that if
the bias is in the works it should be
addressed. If the bias is in the man or
not might be an interesting biographical
question but I sure as hell haven't
suggested that Dorn's personal foibles
are relevant to the evaluation of his
work. It is the question whether anti-
homosexuality enters the work
(particularly the "satires" discussed at
Dale's blog) that is at issue. Everyone
here's been to college & knows what
the biographical fallacy is; I'm sure I'm
not the only one who agrees with the
several critics who deny it is always a
fallacy; but this is not one of the times
it isn't, nor has anyone said otherwise.

On April 29, 2009 at 3:09pm michael robbins wrote:
& Kent, maybe you can suggest who
exactly you have in mind here: "And likely
he knew--and it's clearly become the
case--that his sternly stated antipathies
would cause many down the road to shun
him and work outright-- or understand, in
vaguely assimilated ways, that they
*should.*" Me? Boyd? If so, this is simply
ridiculous, given the number of times
we've reiterated our admiration (& deep
reading) of Dorn's work. Somebody get
me a loyalty oath so I can sign it & be
done with these irrelevancies.

On April 29, 2009 at 3:59pm Kent Johnson wrote:
Curtis,***

"Biographical fallacy"? Well, Balderdash back to you, dear sir! You sound a bit like Cleanth Brooks squeezed through a cheesecloth, there... I don't know what people will know about "Pound the man" in 500 years, but the fact is that WE know some things about his ideas and biases (not all of them necessarily self-evident in the poetry), his connections to the art and thought of his time, his poetics and theory (are these irrelevant because outside the poetic text proper?), and these things and more interpolate (sorry for that word, there must be a better one) our reception, our "feeling," of and for the poetry "itself."***

Same and plus with Dorn, whose later poetry bears forth the specific weight of his poetic time, cultural position, and agonistic drive in often didactic fashion. To say one must read him by setting these things aside, so that we may consider his work as we consider Piers Plowman is silly. It's fundamentally the same fallacy, if you think a bit about it, that underlies Aram Saroyan's simplistic "later falling off" argument (though he at least proposes it was the drugs).***

Now, this doesn't mean I don't think valuable things can be done by poets outside the ritualistic conventions of authorship, so as to undermine, let's say, the effects of Author Function (which you seem to allude to, and which is actually a different thing altogether than what we're talking about). But there are poets who hand us materials to grapple with that come suffused with particular histories and locations (not least of all satirists). And the seventh edition of Understanding Poetry is not necessarily what is going to help us to fully appreciate them.***

Will Abhorrences be considered important poetry 500 years from now? Very possibly not, given the satiric contingencies that impel it--though there are some more universal resonances there, too. But what we are talking about is whether a book like Abhorrences should be considered an important book *of our period.* What do you think, by the way? Is it?***

Kent

On April 29, 2009 at 4:07pm Kent Johnson wrote:
Michael,

No, I wasn't thinking of you (or Boyd Nielsen) at all when I wrote the sentence you quoted.

I am referring there to much of the so-called post-avant. Within its field, Dorn is largely a bad name. I am suggesting that his dominant reputation in that big and various community has not a little to do with his early attacks on Language poetry.

Don't get all paranoid on me.

Kent

On April 29, 2009 at 4:58pm Kirby Olson wrote:
The Romanian critic Eugene Simion had a pretty good book that argues against Barthes et al. about the importance of biography.

At any rate, the least we could agree upon is that Dorn is a poet of the American west. He didn't live in Venezuela or in the Congo.

There's a certain kind of independence that's in the work, and a lot of his commenters (Baraka's piece) mention gunplay (Jesse James), again invoking the American west.

Many scholars do look at Shakespeare's biographical context -- trying to get at whether he was a Catholic, or a Lutheran (Hamlet is Lutheran), as it's clearly central to the meaning of the work -- what he believed is essential to understanding what he's trying to SAY.

The offending remarks that some have brought up wre not central to my reading of his work at that junction, but I think for whatever reason he's trying NOT to be digestible, and to be exactly indigestible (I could never understand why he compares Baptists to rocket scientist Von Braun -- but I think to provoke a sense of the indigestible -- also why -- in the few live experiences I had of him -- he said things like Let's Bomb Red China!

I think he was experimenting with what can't be said, and seeing how it went over.

It didn't go over very well with the silly men who want to control discourse and make sure it's all according to the communist party's platform. He became increasingly outrageous along those lines. I happen to enjoy it, even when it drove me nuts, because in a sense he's giving us a sense of what couldn't be said at that point in time.

What would get you completely ousted from the polity.

I don't think he really wanted us to bomb Red China. Or at least not much.

He was a comedian along the lines of Sam Kinison?

There's not much room for such characters, which is why I think they're worth their salt. They reveal our ideology to us?

On April 29, 2009 at 5:09pm Kirby Olson wrote:
It's almost as if there's an invisible fence around certain kinds of things that can't be said. The fence is heavily electrified. Most people stay off those topics (one could say these topics are taboo). That seemed to be, for whatever reason, right where Dorn went, especially later on. He liked to play with that current, stick his finger in it, and it shorted out many people who were attached to maintaining those fences.

It's probably partially biographical why he'd want to do that. And I think part of the reason for this is why he liked the open spaces of the west. I don't think he liked being fenced in.

On April 29, 2009 at 6:58pm Henry Gould wrote:
Popular rhetorical template for blog comment streams : Vociferous High Dudgeon. Thus, try not to be a walking talking cliche every time you hit the keyboard. The one you are arguing with is not a complete idiot. There is something to be said. Just state your case, relax, show some good humor.

On April 29, 2009 at 7:03pm Curtis Faville wrote:
Wow! Kirby--your post is pure Kirby
and sheer genius!

"for whatever reason he's trying NOT to
be digestible, and to be exactly
indigestible" --precisely. A man like
Dorn bristles when he gets the feeling
he's being predictable, and rated, and
circumscribed. He demands
separation, and he'll have it, even if it
means declaiming absurdities!
Whenever any fashionable principle
becomes de rigeur, no one is allowed to
say ANYTHING exceptionable about it--
it's all wonderful and warm and cuddly.

"He liked to play with that current, stick
his finger in it, and it shorted out many
people who were attached to
maintaining those fences." (Here, I'm
rolling off my seat in glee.)

Kent:

Oh, god, not Cleanth Brooks. The Well-
Wrought Urn. Put my ashes in it and
send it to Tibet! It's quite true that
DURING THEIR LIFETIMES, we're at
liberty to poke around peoples' lives
and draw all kinds of meaningful
parallels between the life and the work.
How about Sylvia Plath and her
husband the Vampire Hughes? Or was
Sylvia the Vampiress? I've never
figured it out. Who sucked whose blood
and who wrote the best poetry.

My point is that JUDGING a writer's
work BY starting with the LIFE is bound
to produce distortions. I think Creeley,
for instance, went through some kind of
psychological transformation during the
1960's; his second marriage sank into
ruin, he experimented with drugs and
the "counterculture" and he got
confused by his fame, etc. Suddenly,
in the 1970's, he seems to start all over
again, writing tame quatrains, and
confessing all this lonely anxiety, and
meditating his own death, etc., etc.
What I'm getting at is that we can know
and speculate about all this, but it
doesn't change what his work IS, what
its strengths and achievements ARE.
The poor will still go doucement,
doucement, to the cemetery and the
poor will still think it's crazy--that work
won't stand or fall as a result of its
author's tribulations in later adulthood.
For Love doesn't REQUIRE that we
know the "story" of Creeley's missing
eye, or his first marriage, or his
friendship with Charles Olson, or his
spending time in Majorca, blah blah
blah. It's all good, it's all fun, but it's
not NECESSARY. Aram is saying he
finds the later WORK less compelling:
The reasons he gives for this are mildly
speculative, and not very detailed (and
hence perhaps not convincing). I like
Abhorrences in much the same way I
like Dwight MacDonald or Mencken:
They're raving on with great panache
about something they think is awful;
they're having a great old time with it,
they're grinning delightedly at the
typewriter, and insulting everyone in
sight. Well, it's fun. I love that, and if
someone of Dorn's wit and vicious
disdain does it, with passion, it may rise
to the level of literature. So be it.

On April 29, 2009 at 7:11pm Henry Gould wrote:
Well put, Curtis. Touche.

Advocates & acolytes : you may special-plead your way to the cemetery too. The game is about the literary absolute (blind justice, everywhere the same).

On April 29, 2009 at 7:29pm Kirby Olson wrote:
Curtis, thanks a lot for your kind comment. I have really enjoyed this thread. I really liked Kent's list of outrageous things that poets have done. Is there any great poet that didn't hold some totally objectionable opinion? Maybe the list would be shorter than those who did.

What Dorn was doing reminds me also of what Corso was doing when he writes, "I dropped fire engines from my mouth!"

For whatever reason, good poets often like to get the sirens blaring. Or perhaps I should say that the poets I find interesting often do that.

I think that YOU do that. Dale does it. Kent does it. So many do. Some set up taboos, and others can't wait to have at them. It's a very attractive thing to do. Who can help it? I even think that Aram Saroyan does it, and that maybe, that's what he did, here, by slighting these two icons, so recently passed, and still tender in our memories.

On April 29, 2009 at 7:36pm Kent Johnson wrote:
OK, Curtis, I'm seeing you better now. But I don't think anyone was arguing that we "start with the life" and see how the work then matches up, or doesn't!

And I wanted to say that my last post (in response to Michael Robbins) has an awkwardness of tone at the end. When I wrote "Don't get all paranoid on me," I was trying to be funny in a friendly way, not contentious sounding! Just to point that out...

Kent

On April 29, 2009 at 9:48pm Michael Robbins wrote:
We cool, Kentameter. I know it's one love.

On May 4, 2009 at 6:45am Lilac wrote:
I was thinking....just the other day that if I had tulips, I'd plant them there. On second thought I realized that would be pure insanity.

This morning, a deer rummaged through the bushes next door and when it saw me, it froze and then ran away.

The poems people. The poems.

What about the poems?

On May 4, 2009 at 9:00pm Terreson wrote:
Plant the tulips. Lilac. Worry about the deer later.

Terreson

On December 29, 2009 at 3:40pm Bill Pearlman wrote:
Creeley was a good friend of mine; our wives were friends when he lived in Placitas. FOR LOVE was a masterful post-Williams thrust in poetry. But there was much good later work. Bob became a little down in later years, that much is clear. But in a book like LATER, Prayer to Hermes is a fine piece. As is his angry, inflected poem Oh Max in MIRRORS, his very strong poetic narrative of Max Finstein's death. Bob was a man who lived in an intense honesty, and sometimes destructive behaviors. Still, those of us who knew and loved him and his work, will not dismiss him as AS has done here...As for Dorn, his music never got into my wavelength, though I had some good times with him; he was a kick, like they say...I run a writer's reading series for PEN San Miguel (Writers Aloud), and last year I did a Homage to Robert Creeley that covered the whole body of work. It was a strong occasion.

On March 12, 2010 at 4:24pm bob lewis wrote:
As a friend of Dorn's from the first time I met him moving a washer and dryer into the house he rented in Kent, all I can say about this is it smells like 100 pounds of bullshit in a 50 pound sack.

Dorn's early work labored under layers of convention. His post-Slinger work is filled and alive with ideas and his brain remained open to the new.

As for homophobia - that's another load of bullshit. A phobia is an intense unreasoning fear. Dorn was certainly not "afraid" of gays . . . but he never suffered fools, and was on occasion exasperated by drama queens and attendant histrionics.

On August 30, 2010 at 3:43pm Steve Emerson wrote:

Arriving later than a cut-rate plumber here -- but, Dale, I'm pretty sure Tom Clark ended the biography where he did in order to avoid the years during which he personally knew Ed best. Henry, the Ron Silliman account struck me as prejudiced. Ron's recollection of the SF reading that he (Ron) put together is flawed at Dorn's expense. Of the three readers, the one who is alive told me personally that the feuding Ron claimed was contemporaneous and allegedly caused Ed to request the clean-up spot in the proceedings -- was at that time nonexistent and not in play. This is the kind of thing you want to get right.

On October 15, 2010 at 3:51am Matthew Cooperman wrote:

All this, and more, was and is true. I knew Ed well, as his student, as friend of Ed and Jenny for twenty plus years (as Rollig Stock reporter) as straight Buddha Jew he mocked and also loved. Call me an acolyte for sure, but that's a a skeptical acolyte. It was--back to Olson- -methodology. That was his gift. Early posts re: anti-everything, focus the thing; heresy, which is a deep skepticism of the very subjectivity of expression it would yield, is democratic. Creeley's cranky in exactly the way he needed to be. God help us (or something) if we need to end up happy. Ed loved everything alert--he was (and this is lacking in the discussion of the late work, esp. Abhorences, a record of a "decade") at heart, an occasional poet, and his occasions were the time and space in which he lived (sometimes an external west, sometimes an internal protestantism. To see the occasional work as a resistance to normative lyric (post-avant or not) practice. That's his gift to me.

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Biography

Aram Saroyan's Door to the River: Essays and Reviews from the 1960s into the Digital Age will be published in October by Black Sparrow/Godine. He made his debut as a writer with six poems and a review of Robert Creeley's novel The Island in the April 1964 issue of Poetry magazine. Saroyan's Complete Minimal Poems received the 2008 William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America. He lives in Los Angeles and . . .

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