Deep in Dorn Country: stepping into the poetry of Ed Dorn
Thanks to Richard Fitzpatrick Books continuing its 50% off sale in his new location (on Somerset Street West, just where it turns into Wellington, just over the O-Train bridge from where I am in Chinatown…), I've been immersed lately in the poetry of late American Edward Dorn, in his Interviews, ed. Donald Allen (Four Seasons, Writing 38, 1980) and The Collected Poems 1956-1974 (Four Seasons, Writing 34, 1975). Until the past year or so, with finding a second hand copy of the collected Gunslinger, and the fact that The Chicago Review had an issue last year dedicated to his work, I really hadn't paid much attention to him before, mostly through not having proper access.
My speech is tinged
my tongue has taken
a foreigner into it
Can you understand
my uncertainties grow
and underbrush and thicker
of furious sensibility
between us and wholly
unlike the marvelous burning
bush which lies at the entrance
to your gated thighs
My dear love, when I unsheathe
a word of the wrong temper
it is to test that steel
across the plain between us ("Love Songs," The Collected Poems 1956-1974, p 237)
It was actually the interview that donato mancini did with Vancouver poet (and former Ottawa Valley resident) Dorothy Trujillo Lusk that we posted on a Canadian poets section of Jacket magazine that first gave me a real heads-up on the work of Dorn as someone to consider seriously. To read both of them with any depth is to almost immediately see the connections, both through the particular kinds of language that they use, and the political underpinnings, with Dorn coming from a version of the American West and seeing the way the lower classes, including Native Americans, were being treated, and Lusk, with her ongoing history with the Kootenay School of Writing, working both language-centred writing and more socialist/political elements (a la Derksen, Creede, Robertson, Barnholden, etcetera, even going back to Tom Wayman's work poetry, but mixed with that language-centred edge).
Parts of the collection of interviews (five pieces in all) have been interesting, especially in the context of writing a particular take on geography with my nearly-finished poetry manuscript, The Ottawa City Project, or other recent writings on writings tumbling about my head the past few months, in this response Dorn gave concerning the poem "Idle Visitation" he used as the opening of his long poem Gunslinger:
Dorn: I published it in this book and then later I saw that it was the start. It was so open-ended that I recognized it later as being there for me if I wanted it. I mean I had left it there for myself which I didn't recognize right off. I didn't start out with the intention of writing a big poem. But I saw it later as a structure that was built in such a way that it could be extended.
Okada: Was that the reason then that you moved from the natural landscape to intensity? That it seemed to be more open-ended?
Dorn: I don't feel that geography itself or a human preoccupation with the geography or a concern with the aesthetic properties of landscape and so forth necessarily leads anywhere at all and in fact most of that material is more or less interesting perhaps but inert. Until it's infused with the whole dynamism of human movement, I think its meaning is trivial. After all, the appreciation of landscape and geography is a human involvement. ("An Interview with Roy K. Okada," Interviews, pp 44-5)