Clayton Eshleman

b. 1935
Clayton Eshleman is one of America’s foremost translators and poets. Born in 1935 in Indianapolis, Indiana, Eshleman earned degrees in philosophy and creative writing from Indiana University. As a young man he traveled to Mexico, and lived in Japan, where he befriended poets such as Gary Snyder and Cid Corman. Returning to the US, Eshleman held teaching positions at institutions including the California Institute of the Arts and Eastern Michigan University, where he is professor Emeritus. He also founded two of mid-century American poetry’s most highly regarded magazines: Caterpillar, which ran from 1967-73, and Sulfur, from 1981-2000. Eshleman and his wife Caryl have made frequent trips to France, where they have led tours of the caves in the Dordogne region. Eshleman’s interest in cave paintings and archeology resulted in the work Juniper Fuse: Upper Paleolithic Imagination and the Construction of the Underworld (2003). Speaking about his interest in the caves and cave paintings, Eshleman told Contemporary Authors: “My work attempts to go at Ice Age image-making, and its relevance to the twentieth century, via poems, prose poems, notes, essays, dreams, and lectures, i.e., to compile an anatomy comprised of many genres to match the unframed range of undifferentiated image-making which forms the floor of human imagination.”

Eshleman’s translations of literary giants such as César Vallejo, Pablo Neruda, Aimé Césaire, Antonin Artaud, Michel Deguy, Bernard Bador, and Arthur Rimbaud have earned him numerous awards, including the National Book Award for his translation, with José Rubia Barcia, of The Complete Posthumous Poetry (1978) of César Vallejo. His translation of Vallejo’s Complete Poetry: A Bilingual Edition (2007) was shortlisted for the prestigious Griffin Poetry Prize. Eshleman is known for his diligent approach to translation, often reworking and republishing volumes of Vallejo and Césaire over decades. Eshleman has talked about his sense of apprenticeship to the poets he translates, especially Vallejo. In an interview with Jessica Crispin, he noted “By the time I went to Japan I had a sketchy, maybe newspaper-level reading ability in Spanish. All self-taught. And of course in no way up to translating Vallejo, but I took a Vallejo anthology with me to Japan and at one point, as I mention in the ‘Translation Memoir,’ I decided I would try to read Poemas Humanos. I was seduced and overwhelmed and quickly decided that I would create an apprenticeship to poetry by translating all the poems in that book. I felt that I would learn something about poetry by doing that that I would not learn by staying with English language poetry. Vallejo had something to teach me that I could not find in Williams or Pound. That was the beginning of this 48 year Vallejo translation saga. There have been lots of gaps in translating his poetry. I figure I’ve probably spent full time maybe 12 years on Vallejo since the late ‘50s to 2005. He’s become my great companion in poetry.”
 
Eshleman’s own poetry is noted for its innovative use of myth, psychology, archeology, and surrealism. Using juxtaposition, complex and sinuous syntax, and an eclectic range of reference, Eshleman has carved out a distinct niche in American poetry. "His is a poetic that demands tremendous energy and an intense desire to overcome the impossibility of containing the world in a sequence of articulated particulars,” noted Carlos Parcelli in the journal Flash Point. “Buddhism, third world nationalist movements, jazz musicians, ancient cave paintings, and the transference of sexuality all hold clues for Eshleman. Clues that will ultimately lead to a closure—to the rejection of the mediumship of words,” he continued. Other reviewers have noted the centrality of techniques learned from his work as a translator of surrealist poets such as Vallejo and Césaire, “Image is crucial to Eshleman’s praxis,” wrote John Olson in the American Book Review. Eshleman’s poetry has been described as “witty, abrasive, pungently earthy,” by Susan Smith Nash in World Literature Today. She continued, “Eshleman’s poems possess a heavy reliance on juxtaposition and the belief that an essential truth may emerge from the dionysiac combining of art, anthropology, poetry, and historical events.”
 
Eshleman has received numerous honors and awards for his work, including fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and travel grants from the Soros Foundation and the Rockefeller Study Center in Bellagio, Italy.
 
Eshleman once told Contemporary Authors that William Blake, César Vallejo, Antonin Artaud, Bud Powell, and Chaim Soutine have had a powerful influence on his poetry. He said: “My poetics are the oldest and most engaging human adventure: the emancipation of the self.” Eshleman also spoke of his own journey as a writer and offered some advice to aspiring poets: “I began to write when I was about twenty-three years old, at the same time I began to read seriously, so there has always been a constant overlapping between reading and writing, almost as if they are sides of the same coin whose center, or gravity, is experience—my experience which, as all others, in my opinion, is resolutely personal. I write mainly to understand what is happening to me and others, and to express relation or the lack of it. I think that transcendence is a mistake, and that it is much more meaningful to drill through an opaqueness than to try and go over it… As for aspiring writers; believe, I say to you, in apprenticeship. Pick some mature writer or artist and force yourself to know all of his work, from beginning to end, and attempt to assimilate it, and understand why it has the power that it does to move you. Such work takes from between ten and twenty years, depending on where you are when you make such a move, and who you have picked. The denser the mature artist the more you will get out of such an association, and probably the more difficult your gains will be.”
 

Career

University of Maryland, College Park, instructor in English, 1961-62; Matsushita Electric Corporation, Kôbe, Japan, English language and writing instructor, 1962-64; American Language Institute, New York University, New York, NY, instructor, 1966-68; Caterpillar Books, publisher, 1966-68; Caterpillar (magazine), New York, NY and Sherman Oaks, CA, publisher and editor, 1967-73; California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, member of faculty of School of Critical Studies, 1970-72; American College, Paris, France, teacher of American poetry, 1973-74; University of California, Extension Division, Los Angeles, instructor, beginning 1974; California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Dreyfuss Poet-in-Residence and lecturer in creative writing, 1979-84; visiting lecturer in creative writing at various branches of University of California, including San Diego, Riverside, Los Angeles, and Santa Barbara, 1979-86; Sulfur (magazine), founder and editor, 1981-2000; Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti, professor of English, 1986-2003, professor emeritus, 2003—. Consultant to board of directors, Coordinating Council of Literary Magazines, 1967-70; part-time employee at University of California Press, beginning 1974; three-time participant in Visiting Authors Program, USIA, Bonn, Germany, 1974-79; led tour group to Ice Age-decorated caves in southwestern France, 1981, 1983, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002; member of National Endowment for the Art's literary magazine panel and policy committee, 1983; California Arts Council literature panel member, 1984; poet-in-residence, Cranbrook Writers Conference, 1987; board member of CLMP, 1987; International Poetry Festival participant, Barcelona, 1988; visiting scholar in Hispanic studies at Brown University, 1989; summer faculty member Naropa Institute, 1992, 2000; poet-in-residence at University of Arizona's Poetry Center, 1992; five-day residence at Simon Fraser University's Institute for the Humanities, 1992, and at Poets & Writers, Rochester, 1994 and 2002; participant in films Aimé Césaire: A Voice for History, and A Tribute to Aimé Césaire, Project Black Cinema, Florida State University, 1993; seminar on Upper Paleolithic cave art for Shaman Drum Bookstore, Ann Arbor, MI, 1993; readings at Rochester University, University of Notre Dame, Indiana University, SUNY-Albany, and University of Oklahoma, 1994; poetry readings at SUNY-Buffalo and Butler University, Indianapolis, 1995; poetry reading at Recovery of the Public World conference, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, 1995; three-day residencies at Naropa Institute and Wichita State University, 1996; Artaud presentations at University of Colorado, Boulder, Poets House, New York, NY, and Drawing Center, New York, NY, 1996; bilingual presentation of poetry at Maison des Ecrivans, Paris, France, 1996; participant at Festival Franco-anglais de poesie, Paris, 1997; writer-in-residence, Tennessee State University, 1999; participated in Ecrivains présent conference, University of Poitiers, Poitiers, France, 1999; featured performer, Bumbershoot Arts Festival, Seattle, 2000; seminar leader for Poetry Society of America, 2001; writer-in-residence at Dalhousie University and State University of New York—Oneonta, 2001; presenter at Associated Writing Program Conference, New Orleans, LA, 2002; writer-in-residence at Macalester College, Wichita State University, University of Maine—Orono, Lakewood (Ohio) Public Library, San Diego State University, and University of Louisiana—Monroe, 2002; participant in poetry conference, National Library Mitterand, Paris, 2002. Has given poetry readings of his own works and of translations at more than four hundred schools and universities, and at the Library of Congress.

Bibliography

POETRY AND PROSE

  • Mexico and North, privately published (Tokyo, Japan), 1962.
  • The Chavin Illumination, La Rama Florida (Lima, Peru), 1965.
  • Lachrymae Mateo: Three Poems for Christmas, 1966, Caterpillar (New York, NY), 1966.
  • Walks, Caterpillar, 1967.
  • The Crocus Bud, Camels Coming (Reno, NV), 1967.
  • Cantaloups and Splendour, Black Sparrow (Los Angeles, CA), 1968.
  • Brother Stones, woodcuts by William Paden, Caterpillar, 1968.
  • T’ai, Sans Souci (Cambridge, MA), 1969.
  • Indiana, Black Sparrow, 1969.
  • The House of Ibuki, Sumac (Freemont, MI), 1969.
  • The House of Okumura, Weed/Flower (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1969.
  • The Yellow River Record, Big Venus (London, England), 1969.
  • A Pitch-blende, Maya Quarto (Berkeley, CA), 1969.
  • Altars, Black Sparrow, 1971.
  • The Wand, Capricorn (Santa Barbara, CA), 1971.
  • (Editor) A Caterpillar Anthology, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1971.
  • Bearings, Capricorn, 1971.
  • The Sanjo Bridge, Black Sparrow, 1972.
  • The Last Judgment: For Caryl Her Thirty-first Birthday, for the End of Her Pain, Plantin (Los Angeles, CA), 1973.
  • Coils, Black Sparrow, 1973.
  • Human Wedding, Black Sparrow, 1973.
  • Realignment, illustrated by Nora Jaffe, Treacle (Kingston, NY), 1974.
  • Aux Morts, Black Sparrow, 1974.
  • Grotesca, New London Pride (London, England), 1975.
  • Portrait of Francis Bacon, Rivelin (Sheffield, England), 1975.
  • The Gull Wall, Black Sparrow, 1975.
  • The Woman Who Saw through Paradise, Tansy (Lawrence, KS), 1976.
  • Cogollo, Roxbury Poetry Enterprises (Newton, MA), 1976.
  • The Name Encanyoned River, Treacle, 1977.
  • On Mules Sent from Chavin: A Journal and Poems, Galloping Dog (Swanea, Wales), 1977.
  • Core Meander, Black Sparrow, 1977.
  • What She Means, Black Sparrow, 1978.
  • Nights We Put the Rock Together, Cadmus (Santa Barbara, CA), 1980.
  • Hades in Manganese, Black Sparrow, 1981.
  • Fracture, Black Sparrow, 1983.
  • The Name Encanyoned River: Selected Poems 1960-1985, introduction by Eliot Weinberger, Black Sparrow, 1986.
  • Hotel Cro-Magnon, Black Sparrow, 1989.
  • (Editor, with Edith Jarolim) Paul Blackburn, The Parallel Voyages, SUN/Gemini Press (Tucson, AZ), 1987.
  • Novices: A Study of Poetic Apprenticeship, Mercer & Aitchison (Los Angeles, CA), 1989.
  • Antiphonal Swing: Selected Prose 1962-1987, edited by Caryl Eshleman, introduced by Paul Christensen, McPherson (Kingston, NY), 1989.
  • Under World Arrest, Black Sparrow (Santa Rosa, CA), 1994.
  • Nora’s Roar, Rodent (Boulder, CO), 1996.
  • From Scratch, Black Sparrow, 1998.
  • Erratics, Hunger Press (Rosendale, NY), 2000.
  • A Cosmogonic Collage: Sections I, II, & V, Canopic (Ypsilanti, MI), 2000.
  • Jisei, Backwoods Broadsides (Ellsworth, ME), 2000.
  • Companion Spider (essays), foreword by Adrienne Rich, Wesleyan University Press (Middletown, CT), 2002.
  • Sweetheart, Canopic (Ypsilanti, MI), 2002.
  • Juniper Fuse: Upper Paleolithic Imagination and the Construction of the Underworld, Wesleyan (Middletown, CT), 2003.
  • My Devotion: New Poems, Black Sparrow Press, 2004.
  • An Alchemist with One Eye on Fire, Black Widow Press (Boston, MA), 2006.
  • Archaic Design, Black Widow Press, 2007.
  • Reciprocal Distillations, Hot Whiskey Press, 2007.
  • Grindstone of Rapport: A Clayton Eshleman Reader, Black Widow Press, 2008.
  • Anticline, Black Widow Press, 2010.

TRANSLATOR

  • Pablo Neruda, Residence on Earth, Amber House (Japan), 1962.
  • (With Denis Kelly) Aimé Césaire, State of the Union, Caterpillar, 1966.
  • César Vallejo, Seven Poems, R. Morris (Reno, NV), 1967.
  • César Vallejo, Human Poems, Grove (New York, NY), 1968.
  • Antonin Artaud, Letter to Andre Breton, Black Sparrow (Los Angeles, CA), 1974.
  • (With José Rubia Barcia) César Vallejo, Spain, Take This Cup from Me, Grove, 1974.
  • (With Norman Glass) Antonin Artaud, To Have Done with the Judgement of God, Black Sparrow, 1975.
  • (With Norman Glass) Antonin Artaud, Artaud the Momo, Black Sparrow, 1976.
  • (Translator, with José Rubia Barcia) César Vallejo: Battles in Spain: Five Unpublished Poems, Black Sparrow, 1978.
  • (With José Rubia Barcia) César Vallejo, The Complete Posthumous Poetry, University of California Press,1978.
  • (With Norman Glass) Antonin Artaud, Four Texts, Panjandrum (Los Angeles, CA), 1982.
  • (With Annette Smith) Aimé Césaire, The Collected Poetry, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 1983.
  • Michel Deguy, Given Giving: Selected Poems, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 1984.
  • Bernard Bador, Sea Urchin Harakiri, Panjandrum (Los Angeles, CA), 1986.
  • (With Annette Smith) Aimé Césaire, Lost Body, Braziller (New York, NY), 1986.
  • (With Annette Smith and Frantisek Galan; and editor) Conductors of the Pit: Major Works of Rimbaud, Vallejo, Césaire, Artaud, and Holan, Paragon (New York, NY), 1988.
  • (With Annette Smith) Aimé Césaire, Lyric and Dramatic Poetry 1946-1982, introduction by A. James Arnold, University Press of Virginia (Charlottesville, VA), 1990.
  • César Vallejo, Trilce, Marsilio (New York, NY), 1992, new edition, with an introduction by Américo Ferrari, Wesleyan University Press (Middletown, CT), 2000.
  • (And editor; with Bernard Bador) Antonin Artaud, Watchfiends and Rack Screams: Works from the Final Period, Exact Change (Boston, MA), 1995.
  • (With Annette Smith) Aimé Césaire, Notebook of a Return to the Native Land, introduction by André Breton, Wesleyan University Press (Middletown, CT), 2001.
  • Conductors of the Pit: Artaud, Holan, Cesaire, Vallejo, Csoori, Breton, Neruda, Radnoti, Rimbaud, Hierro, Bador, Juhasz, Szocs, Soft Skull Press (Berkeley, CA), 2005.
  • The Complete Poetry of César Vallejo, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 2007.
  • (With Lucas Klein) Bei Dao, Endure, Black Widow Press (Boston, MA), 2011.
  • Bernard Bador, Curdled Skulls: Poems of Bernard Bador, Black Widow Press, 2011.
  • (With James A. Arnold) Aimé Césaire, Solar Throat Slashed: The Unexpurgated 1948 Version, Wesleyan Press (Middletown, CT), 2011.
Contributor of poetry, essays, reviews and translations to periodicals, including New Directions Annual, origin, Evergreen Review, Kenyon Review, Exquisite Corpse, Paris Review, Partisan Review, Sugar Mule, Poetry (Chicago), Antaeus, Grand Street, Conjunctions, Harpers, Parnassus, APR, Montemora, Mandorla (Mexico City), PoeSie (Paris), Tri- Quarterly, Chicago Review, Big Table, Agni, New York Times Sunday Book Review, Los Angeles Times Book Review, and others. Also contributor to anthologies, including Wireless Imagination, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 1992; American Poetry since 1950, Marsilio, 1994; Postmodern American Poetry, Norton, 1994; Masterpieces of World Literature, volume 2, Norton, 1996; The Vintage Book of Contemporary World Poetry, 1996; and Poems for the Millennium, volumes 1 and 2, University of California Press, 1995 and 1998. Edited three issues of Folio, 1959-60. Eshleman’s work has been translated and published in more than thirteen languages. Eshleman’s literary archive is housed at the Archive for New Poetry, University of California, San Diego; Lilly Library, Indiana University; and Fales Library, New York University.

 

Further Reading

BOOKS
  • Christensen, Paul, Minding the Underworld: Clayton Eshleman and Late Postmodernism, Black Sparrow (Los Angeles, CA), 1991.
  • Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 7, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1977.
  • Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 5: American Poets since World War II, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1980.
  • Sattler, Martha, Clayton Eshleman: An Annotated Bibliography, McFarland & Co. (Jefferson, NC), 1988.
PERIODICALS
  • Agenda, December, 1994, William Harmer, "The Diverse Poetics of Clayton Eshleman."
  • American Book Review, May-June, 1982, Donald Wesling, review of Hades in Manganese; September-October, 1990, Dawn Kolokithas, "Closer to the Moderns"; June, 1996, Kenneth Warren, "Spinal Traffic"; December-January, 1996-97, John Olson, "On-Site Inspection"; May-June, 1999, John Olson, review of From Scratch, p. 22.
  • American Poetry, volume 3, 1984, Diane Wakoski, "The Visionary Poetry of Clayton Eshleman."
  • American Poetry Review, July-August, 1973.
  • Bluefish, spring, 1984, Paul Christensen, "Back to the Mind Cradles," and David Rattray, review of Antonin Artaud: Four Texts.
  • Choice, January, 1990, L. Berk, review of Novices A Study of Poetic Apprenticeship; March, 1991, A. J. Guillaume, Jr., review of Lyric and Dramatic Poetry, 1946-82.
  • Commonweal, June 15, 1984, Steven Philip Kramer, review of Aimé Césaire: The Collected Poetry, p. 382.
  • Contact, spring, 1990, Jim Lang, "Turning the Mind-Rock: An Antiphonal Exchange with Clayton Eshleman," and Rochelle Owens, review of Conductors of the Pit: Major Words by Rimbaud, Vallejo, C´saire, Artaud, and Holan.
  • Contemporary Literature, winter, 1975; summer, 1996, Keith Tuma, "An Interview with Clayton Eshleman."
  • Denver Quarterly, Volume 7, number 2, John Olson, "Notes from the Underworld"; summer, 1991, Janet Bowdan, "Eshleman and the Art of Spelunking the Skeleton," Taffy Martin, review of Antiphonal Swing: Selected Prose 1962-1987.
  • Flashpoint, summer, 1996, Carlos Parcelli, "Epiphany and Closure," p. 89.
  • House Organ, 1994, Kenneth Warren, review of Hotel Cro-Magnon; 2003, Kenneth Warren, review of Companion Spider.
  • Hudson Review, spring, 1970.
  • Journal of Modern Literature, fall/winter, 1988-89, review of Conductors of the Pit, p. 195.
  • Library Journal, November 1, 1983, Peter Sabor, review of Aimé Césaire: The Collected Poetry, 1939-1976, pp. 2086-2087; January, 2002, David Kirby, review of Companion Spider: Essays, p. 101.
  • Literary Magazine Review, fall, 1987, Brian C. Clark, "Sulfur."
  • Manoa, spring, 1992, Gene Frumkin, review of Hotel Cro-Magnon, Conductors of the Pit, Antiphonal Swing, The Name Encanyoned River: Selected Poems 1960-1985, Fracture, and Hades in Manganese.
  • Nation, April 24, 1967.
  • New Republic, July 12, 1993, Christopher Maurer, "Through a Verse Darkly."
  • New York Times Book Review, March 23, 1969, M. L. Rosenthal, review of Human Poems; February 1, 1972, Paul Zweig, review of The Gull Wall; February 13, 1972, Hayden Carruth, "Altars and a Caterpillar Anthology"; February 1, 1976; October 11, 1981, Paul Zweig, review of Hades in Manganese, p. 32; February 19, 1984, Serge Gavronsky, "Black Themes in Surreal Guise"; August 26, 1990, Doug Anderson, review of Antiphonal Swing: Selected Prose 1962-1987, p. 15.
  • North Dakota Quarterly, spring, 1994-95, Michael Spiering, review of Under World Arrest.
  • Poetry, April, 1968, review of Lachrymae Mateo: Three Poems for Christmas, 1966; June, 1969, review of Indiana.
  • Publishers Weekly, July 13, 1992, review of Trilce, p. 51; August 29, 1994, review of Under World Arrest; November 20, 1995, review of Watchfiends and Rack Screams, p. 71; January 28, 2002, review of Companion Spiders, p. 284.
  • Rain Taxi, spring, 1999, Eric Lorberer, "An Interview with Clayton Eshleman."
  • Research in African Literature, winter, 1984, Emile Snyder, review of Aimé Césaire: The Collected Poetry.
  • Review: Latin American Literature and Arts, January-June, 1991, Roberto Marquez, review of Lyric and Dramatic Poetry 1946-1982.
  • Temblor, Volume 6, 1987, Paul Christensen, Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Jed Rasula, James Hillman, Gerald Burns, Karin Lessing, "Six Writers on Eshleman."
  • Times Literary Supplement, July 23, 1993, Jason Wilson, review of Trilce.
  • Virginia Quarterly Review, winter, 1983, A. James Arnold, review of Hades in Manganese.
  • Waste Paper, February, 1993, Duane Davis, "Inventing Madness, an Interview with Clayton Eshleman."
  • West Coast Line, fall, 1995, Ralph Maud, "On Clayton Eshleman."
  • World Literature Today, summer, 1995, James McElroy, review of Under World Arrest; summer, 1999, Susan Smith Nash, review of From Scratch.
ONLINE
  • Eastern Michigan University, http://www.emich.edu/ (April 2, 2003).

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LIFE SPAN 1935–

Biography

Clayton Eshleman is one of America’s foremost translators and poets. Born in 1935 in Indianapolis, Indiana, Eshleman earned degrees in philosophy and creative writing from Indiana University. As a young man he traveled to Mexico, and lived in Japan, where he befriended poets such as Gary Snyder and Cid Corman. Returning to the US, Eshleman held teaching positions at institutions including the California Institute of the Arts and . . .

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