Wound Interrogation, 1948, image by Roberto Matta
In Matta’s “Wound Interrogation,
a Malangganesque robot thrusts a flattened palm against
a large pulpy vaginal wound hung before it.
“The wound is separated from
human being & subjected to the
torture of intense examination by heinous machines. The bloody red insides of the wound convey a life striving to exist, while the grays & blacks of the
demon robots remind one of an industrial plant.”
This morning at
end of first light
cloud pythons gargling menstrual-seminal elixir.
gas between that Hadic distance &
Matta’s robots interrogating—I propose: Persephone’s sexuality.
Who exactly inhabits Hades’ kingdom?
Can I interrogate this region of dense, cold air without light?
“You can, but my icy lace is blinding
& my knuckles, feeble from your Herculean viewpoint, are
hurricane poundings, tidal flail.
jaguar which you created so as to, while
lurching out of bed, crash onto
I am the kobold which bit your ankle as you climbed out of a cave.
While you were driving home that night I bit again
so that you smashed into a ditch & broke that ankle twice.
I am, in other words, untapped center, shifty ‘always.’
In my casket chloroform are blind troll suns, split
gourds of brain jam, simmering golden sweat known as world wars.
You glimpsed my erection in Lascaux’s “Shaft.”
I became a bird man that you might watch me scram via
a bison’s vagina-winsome hanging guts
There never was a beginning!
All is nexus & midriff cast on an alabaster plain of marauding
The frailty of being holed & rampant with closure.
Blake’s angels feast on my neck
as strapped to this fuselage of honking verbs I watch Hades
now a zyzzogeton munching on alfalfa alpha.
For that matter, what is deliverance?
To find oneself present at Pluto’s cornucopian spread & grasp
that one must not pluck a single grape?
The first Persephone pumped time out of her held-aloft bison horn,
& with that image phantom impregnated herself!
Between the cracks in the time board,
to write from a double periphery, in swerve with the labrys…
“Not to subject
change,” Hades quipped,
“but what bugs you
most about America today?”
One: The suppression of
horrifying truth of the 9/11 assault
(more appropriately referred to as “The
Pentagon Three Towers Bombing”) infests the
American soul with a stifling sense of unreality charged by the rivers of blood flowing alongside the Euphrates & Tigris through a destroyed &
failed state that may never again be reconstructed. I note that o therwise responsible political thinkers like Oliver
Stone & Bill Maher will not even engage this ongoing nightmare.
The truth of The Pentagon Three Towers Bombing is, like an undiagnosed plague, lodged in
the American subconscious. This truth is now the lie veneer of our dailiness. There is a knotted
veil in our eyes building rancor where there
could be revelation.
Two: Since I have been writing, translating, & editing for over 50 years, I have to deplore
degree writing programs that are in the
process of substituting creative writing for the art of poetry. In 1994 I
wrote: “Quotational Reality is the
new Purgatory making each desire artificial.” My comment appears to identify
Kenneth Goldsmith’s aes theticized
The first poets, facing
the incomprehensible division
between what would become culture & wilderness, taught themselves how to span it & thus in such caves
as Chauvet & Lascaux respond to their
“wound interrogation”. Our key distinction may become that of being the first generation to have written at a time in
which the origins & the end of poetry became discernable.
Dream is a fire burning alone out of contact with
I study it as Heraclitus studied gods endlessly changing soulscapes,
the squirrel face in a cloud simultaneously a fat weeping raccoon.
Sky stigmata. Archaic smile of
In the webs of Ananke the shaman struggling to vanish into
the dream flow of his avatar radiance.
An image is fire
around which language appears to be
James Hillman: “I and soul are alien to each other because of soul’s domination by
powers, daimones and gods” Soul is molten protocol.
blessing. Death the “less” in
Count Gaga spread-eagled & gagged in everyone’s smoking gate.
Paul Valery’s response: “I’m fucked & I don’t give a fuck.”
Humankind is timed, as if with a timer, by & for
the apocalypse of immortality.
We are too far into the rage for, & range of, power versus the suicidal
hubris of millions willing to immolate to damage imperium & enter
their own immortality
Know thyself = know thyself to be mortal.
To think of
te thered mandala of the hand,
Vallejo: “Our brave little finger will be big, worthy,
an infinite finger among
Vodun thumb-post attended by 4 hexed dwarves.
Palm pressed to
Matta wound, to the Gargas wall:
new human negative:
the I am not that is.
I dream because I first had hands.
And in dream tonight I held my fire in my hands,
my fire with Caryl’s eyes!
Her dearest eyes peering out of my burning!
Clayton Eshleman was born in Indianapolis, Indiana,
June 1, 1935. He
has a B.A. in Philosophy and an M.A.T. in English Literature from . He has lived in Indiana University Mexico, Japan, Taiwan, Korea, Peru, France, Czechoslovakia,
He is presently Professor Emeritus, English Department, . Since 1986 he
has lived in Eastern Michigan
University with his wife Caryl who over Ypsilanti, Michigan the past forty years has been the
primary reader and editor of his poetry and prose. His first collection of
poetry, Mexico & North, was
published in Kyoto, Japan in 1962.
From 1968 to 2004, Black Sparrow Press brought out thirteen collection of his poetry. In 2006, Black Widow Press became his main publisher and with The Price of Experience (2012) has now brought out seven collections of his poetry, prose, and translations, including, in 2008, The Grindstone of Rapport / A Clayton Eshleman Reader. Wesleyan University Press has also published six of his books, including Juniper Fuse: Upper Paleolithic Imagination &
Construction of the Underworld (2003), the
first study of Ice Age cave art by a poet. Three book length poems, An Anatomy of the
Night, The Jointure, and Nested Dolls
were published by BlazeVOX in 2011, 2012 and 2013. Eshleman has published
sixteen collections of translations, including Watchfiends & Rack Screams by Antonin Artaud (Exact Change,
1995), The Complete Poetry of César
Vallejo with a Foreword by Mario Vargas Llosa (University of California Press, 2007), and Aimé Césaire: The Collected Poetry (co-translated with Annette
Smith, University of California Press, 1983). Recently Wesleyan University
Press has brought out two more translations of Césaire: Solar Throat Slashed and The
Original 1939 Notebook of a Return to
the Native Land, both co-translated
with A. James Arnold.
Eshleman also founded and edited two of
the most innovative
poetry journals of the later part of
the 20th century: Caterpillar (20 issues, 1967-1973) and Sulfur (46 issues, 1981-2000).
Doubleday-Anchor published A Caterpillar
Anthology in 1971 and Wesleyan
will publish a 700 page Sulfur Anthology
in January of 2016.
Among his recognitions and awards are a Guggenheim Fellowship in Poetry, 1978; The National Book Award in Translation, 1979; two grants from
NEA, 1979, 1981; three grants from the
NEH, 1980, 1981, 1988; two Landon Translation Prizes from the Academy of American Poets, 1981, 2008; 13 NEA
grants for Sulfur magazine,
1983-1996; The Alfonse X. Sabio Award for Excellence in Translation, San Diego
State University, 2002; a Rockefeller Study Center residency in Bellagio, Italy,
2004, and a Hemmingway Translation Grant in 2015.
Recent publications include a translation of
José Antonio Mazzotti’s
Sakra Boccata with a Foreword by Raúl
Zurita (Ugly Duckling, 2013). In 2014 Black Widow Press published Clayton Eshleman / The Whole Art, an
anthology of essays on Eshleman’s work over the decades, edited by Stuart
Kendall. In the fall of 2015, Black
Widow brought out Clayton Eshleman / The
Essential Poetry 1960-2015 and in 2017 Wesleyan will bring out a 900 page
bilingual edition of The Complete Poetry
of Aimé Césaire, co-translated with A. James Arnold
In her Introduction to Eshleman’s Companion Spider (Wesleyan University Press, 2003), Adrienne Rich wrote: “As a poet and translator, Clayton Eshleman has gone more deeply into his art, its processes and demands, than any modern American poet since Robert Duncan and Muriel Rukeyser… Eshleman has written on the self-making and apprenticeship of the poet, and of the poet as translator, as no one else in North America in the later twentieth century.” His poetry has been featured in both volumes (1994 and 2013) of the Norton Postmodern American Poetry.
His website is www.claytoneshleman.com