Friday, March 23, 2007

Ed Dorn at the End

A couple of days ago Ron Silliman posted a review of a new selection of Ed Dorn's poetry, Way More West, just issued by Penguin. I haven't seen the book yet, but have to wonder if it included any of the work after Abhorrences, or if Ron skipped that section of it, given his comments. To wit:
So what we get, finally, is a rather sad case – of all the New Americans, Dorn’s later poems rank up there with Diane DiPrima’s Revolutionary Letters as the silliest when it comes to their actual political thinking. And like Pound’s politics, it undercuts the poetry, even more so because Dorn has sacrificed so much of his poetics for this muddle of pissed-off agitprop.
Among the wreckage of all that [presumably the "aesthetic reign", as Ron puts it, of the New American poets, in the wake of the Beatles, drugs, and Vietnam], there is no more tragic tale than that of Edward Dorn, who got political only to be revealed as incoherent. Way More West is an important book, precisely because it is such a sad & ultimately disappointing one.
Surely this overlooks the major work published in the last collection Dorn assembled, 1997's High West Rendezvous. The sections from Westward Haut and Languedoc Variorum included there are anything but "pissed-off agitprop", certainly not "flat", and the former, a dialogue between two four-legged citizens of the canine clan, marks a return to the high humor of Gunslinger, albeit with a darker (and sharper) satirical edge.

It's not that Ed Dorn wasn't difficult; he was a deliberate contrarian par excellence. There's much evidence that he was, in fact, as ornery a critter as we've had in American poetry since Ezra Pound himself checked out. I remember a mid-nineties conversation with Dorn's longtime friend and fellow Black Mountain College survivor Robert Creeley, in which Creeley said essentially, and dismissively, that Dorn just enjoyed saying whatever he felt like, to see what reaction he might stir up.

I, too, was disappointed in Abhorrences; it seemed to me then a book focussed on trivial concerns and crotchety pet peeves. But the man still had his chops, and the work of the mid to late nineties confirms that he was anything but a burnt-out coke-head at the end of his career, whatever the legend.

Originally published as a comment over at Silliman's Blog. Ron stirred several folks up with his post, and you'll find some other meaty comments there; well worth a look.

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