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9— Migrating Voices in the Poetry of Edward Dorn
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Migrating Voices in the Poetry of Edward Dorn

Edward Dorn is a contemporary of Robert Creeley and Allen Ginsberg, yet he seems to many readers to be of a different poetic generation from theirs. This conception arises from two factors: Dorn was a student of Charles Olson's at Black Mountain College at a time when Creeley was already a member of the faculty (in fact, he examined Dorn for his graduation exercise); and Dorn was relatively late in coming to his poetic maturity. Dorn's first book of poems, The Newly Fallen (1961), did not appear until five years after Ginsberg had become famous with Howl and nearly a decade after Creeley's writing had first been published. Dorn's long poem Slinger, the work for which he is best known, was not completed until the early 1970s, and it displays a different consciousness from that informing the poetry of other writers in the Pound / Williams tradition such as Olson, Duncan, and Creeley. Dorn shares with these writers the basic Poundian mode of an engaged stance and a diverse and noncanonical use of sources, but his characteristic style of digression and semantic slippage implies a structural principle that denies the clear and hierarchical presentation of values found in works by Pound, Williams, Olson, and Duncan.

In "The Pronouncement," published in the 1964 collection Hands Up! Dorn takes a skeptical view of what he sees as the characteristic Modernist mode of "observation," for which he turns to Olson's paradigm of writing as "exploration" as an alternative. While looking around at the landscape of New


Mexico that encircles him, Dorn reads books "of another time" by Winston Churchill, George Orwell, André Gide, and Kenneth Patchen; Dorn decides that "such a thing as humanity seems very relative, the final / adjuring of any vision." Even Pound's Jefferson and/or Mussolini, which Dorn "fishes out" from a "newly opened box of old books," seems to him "ceaseless prating (the unhappy function of 'style') beneath a shiny / veneer of precise common logic and raw virtue and good nature" (CPD, 76). Dorn finally shows his ambivalence about "pronouncements" in general, even his own; they are not sufficient to help him understand his immediate environment. Alluding to Pound's idea of literature as "news that stays news," Dorn expresses the shortcomings of a Modernist vision that has outlived its usefulness; it has "[come] down / like all news, like a curtain on a comedy" (CPD, 77).

If "The Pronouncement" contains Dorn's most direct poetic response to Pound and Modernism, the long poem that constitutes his third book, From Gloucester Out (1964), is a moving farewell to his immediate mentor Olson, celebrating both Olson's force as a "figure of outward" in Gloucester and Dorn's own movement away from the immediate sphere of Olson's influence. Dorn's next volume, Geography (1965), and especially its central poem, "Idaho Out," indicate a new direction in Dorn's work that will lead to Dorn's most extreme mode of writing in his four-part epic Slinger . The title of Geography and the poem's epigraph from Carl Sauer represent Dorn's homage to Olson and the legacy of his "Bibliography on America for Ed Dorn," but the poems themselves are written in a manner more clearly in reaction to Olson than in emulation of him.

The movement from Pound's Cantos through Olson to Dorn's poem is relatively clear. Where Pound sought his "culture" primarily in Europe, and Olson found his in the local history of the East Coast of America, Dorn makes the American West the center of his cultural interest. Olson had displayed a fascination with the western states in his plans and research for the long poem to be called "West," but he ultimately returned to the more familiar subject of Gloucester, part of New England


and of the European colonial legacy Dorn wants badly to avoid. Dorn replaces the opposition between Europe and America that had been made by poets such as Olson and Creeley with a new opposition between Far West and East Coast. As Sherman Paul comments, Dorn finds "no comfort in the old equation of America versus Europe, since . . . the only way to be an American is to . . . abrogate history and inherit (inhabit) the original geography, the space that was SPACE , because it was before the time of realtors."[1]

As Paul suggests, Dorn not only replaces Olson's geographical opposition with his own; his poetry also takes further Olson's critique of historical poetry by effecting a negation of history except as "space" —that is, except as reflected in a physical and intellectual movement through that space. As I argue, it is Dorn's new notion of "space" that allows a radically altered understanding of the ontological and linguistic processes of poetry itself, an understanding that is increasingly reflected in the form of his own poetry and more particularly in his absorption and manipulation of discourses in the fabric of his poetic writing.

Roland Barthes's S/Z contains a section entitled in its English translation "The Dissolve of Voices." Barthes suggests that there are moments in a text in which "it is impossible to attribute an origin, a point of view, to [a given] statement" (SZ, 41–42). He opposes the "classic text" (he refers specifically to the tradition of realist narrative, but his category could apply to any text containing or signaling the controlling presence of the author) to what he calls the "modern text," such as the nouveaux romans of Alain Robbe-Grillet, Nathalie Sarraute, and others. In the classic text, "the majority of the utterances are assigned an origin" whereas in the modern text "the voices are so treated that any reference is impossible: the discourse, or better the language speaks: nothing more." Even within the classic text, however, Barthes argues that a "plurality" of voice or origin is possible when, in the appropriation of speech from various discourses, "the [authorial] voice gets lost, as though it had


leaked through a hole in the discourse." At these moments we have what Barthes calls the "classical plural," the text as "an iridescent exchange carried on by multiple voices, on different wavelengths and subject from time to time to a sudden dissolve, leaving a gap which enables the utterance to shift from one point of view to another, without warning." This vocal exchange, or "dissolve," leads to a sense of "tonal instability" or even to an "atonality," which produces a text that at its most extreme is "a glistening texture of ephemeral origins" (SZ, 41).

What interests me about Barthes's account of textuality is not only his argument for a "classical plural" as a middle ground between the absolute authorial control of a text's origins, on the one hand, and a total instability of textual origin, on the other, but also the metaphorical terminology Barthes uses to describe this phenomenon. Here he differentiates the dissolve from what he earlier describes as the "weaving of voices," a process that he ascribes to all texts. Barthes's metaphor of a "weaving of voices" and even more dramatically his later variant of a "dissolve of voices" suggest a "dialogic" mode without clearly identifiable borders between the discourses quoted. If we consider that Barthes's original term for the translated word dissolve is "le fading des voix,"[2] the distinction between his idea and Mikhail Bakhtin's notion of heteroglossia becomes clear. Whereas Bakhtin's term connotes only a multiplicity or mixing of voices, Barthes's suggests that the boundaries between discourses themselves, and thus their origins or enunciating voices, will no longer be apparent.[3]


Let us return now to the application of these ideas to modern and contemporary American poetry in the Pound tradition. Bakhtin's paradigm of the dialogic can be usefully applied as a hermeneutic tool for understanding the work of a poet like Pound, whose ideogrammatic or collagelike juxtapositions of utterances, discourses, and languages in The Cantos reflect in their formal configurations the boundaries he wishes to establish between various modes of speech and writing, each of which presupposes a clear sense of origin. To a somewhat lesser extent, the dialogic or heteroglossic model is also applicable to Williams's Paterson and to the work of Olson and Duncan. Although Duncan's own metaphors of the poem as "dense weave" or "polyglot assemblage" resemble Barthes's weaving of voices, they do not suggest a relinquishing of authorial control or of the corresponding notions of language as a source of "truth" and an indicator of "presence."

At the other extreme is Barthes's reading of the modern text as one reflecting the complete indeterminacy, instability, and atonality of discourses allowed to speak for themselves in a text from which the controlling presence of an author—even a "planner"—is conspicuously absent. It is this sense of the modern text (more appropriately, perhaps, the postmodern text) as generated by language itself, which has as its closest parallel in American poetry today the work of the Language poets.[4] But it is in the theoretical space Barthes provides between the classic text and the modern text—the classical plural defined by the dissolve of voices, the fading, the shift in point of view, the tonal instability, the leakage in the discourse, or what I call the "slippage," the "evasion," or the "migration"—that much of Dorn's poetry is written. If the works of experimental Modernist poets such as Pound and Williams are still to be considered examples of classic


texts (and according to Barthes's criteria they clearly are), and if the poetry of Olson and Duncan represents the final stage of the classic text as such, Dorn's work, especially in the later part of his career, is in a state of flux between the classic and the (post)modern.

Dorn's movement away from his predecessors begins in earnest in the volume Geography, despite its Olson-inspired title, and culminates in his most potent poetic work, Slinger, a poem that formally, linguistically, and thematically stands between the Modernist epic and the projects of more radical indeterminacy represented by the Language group. Dorn's poems maintain the sense of a subjective (poetic) voice—be it a speaker, narrator, or persona—but it is a voice that increasingly lacks a sense of authority and seems to be borrowing from other voices, rather than seeking to remain in control of its own discourse. Furthermore, the appropriation of discourse becomes a vehicle not only for making sense of the world or for establishing a directly referential meaning within the poem; it is also a way of inhabiting different spaces or, in the case of Slinger, of moving through different space-time matrices, each of which provides new discourses or modifies expected uses of language. What is important in the world of Slinger is no longer what things mean but where one has been and when one has been there. As Gunslinger (later to be called Slinger) says to the narrator "I" in Book I: "Questioner, you got some strange / obsessions, you want to know / what something means after you've / seen it, after you've been there / or were you out during that time?" (S, 27).

Dorn's poetry and nonpoetic writings continue to display an interest in space as a geographical reality—following Olson's belief in space as "the centrally important fact to man born in America."[5] But they also involve an understanding of space that is distinct from either Williams's sense of the local or Olson's methodology of place. Michael Davidson observes that Dorn's relatively early essay "What I See In The Maximus Poems " (1960) already "recognizes the dangers of treating 'place' as a


sentimental localism."[6] As both Davidson and Alan Golding point out, Dorn replaces the localism of Williams and Olson with an "inner, imaginative landscape" reflecting the mediation and cooptation of contemporary life.[7] I wish to follow up on the thoughts of these critics by examining in greater detail an aspect of Dorn's use of space neither of them has treated fully: his continual use in various guises of the trope of movement through space—as travel, as voyage, as migration, as "straying," as a journey across "states of mind" (S, 39), as a "coursing the country of our consciousness" (S, 48). In my analysis of the poetry, I continue to explore the relation of this central trope to Barthes's theory of a fading of discourses. As Golding and Davidson suggest, such a trope represents the absence of any firm sense of value to be found in a given locale, such as Williams finds in Paterson or Olson in Gloucester. Dorn's locale is the whole of the American West, but in his later work even that becomes insufficient because the metaphysical world Dorn creates for Slinger and his companions represents a refusal to remain within the bounds of even such a large area as the western half of the United States.

Donald Wesling identifies a movement in Dorn's works from physical space in Geography, to geopolitical space in The North Atlantic Turbine (1967), and finally to the "deconstruction of the concepts of space and place" in Slinger .[8] Although I agree in principle with Wesling's analysis, I also believe that what unifies Dorn's continuing conception of space in a poem such as "Idaho Out," in Slinger, and in Dorn's nonpoetic statements is his vision of movement through a world composed not only of places but of people, languages, discourses, signs, and codes. As he writes in a section of North Atlantic Turbine entitled "England, Its Latitude and Some of Its Conditions, The Seriousness of Ghosts," people live in "an ordered and endlessly transferrable place" (CPD, 182). Dorn's sense of contemporary man or woman not belonging in any particular place goes against the guiding beliefs


of Williams and Olson and seems to be especially true in Dorn's view of the American West, which is "not a home" (V, 59) to anyone, except perhaps those Native Americans who have been forced to leave large portions of it. Instead, the West is a place of travel, of continual and restless movement: "The American West is the place men of our local civilization travel into in wide arcs to reconstruct the present version of the Greek experience. . . . [The West] is where you will find the Stranger so dear to our whole experience" (V, 58).

It is on such a "wide arc" that the various characters in Slinger travel on their voyage or pilgrimage—"To See / is their desire / as they wander estranged / through the lanes of the Tenders / of Objects" (S, 33). As in the Greek epics on which the basic form of Dorn's poem is modeled, travel brings the voyager in this "cowboy odyssey" to new places and introduces him to various "strangers" who use new kinds of language. Dorn's personal experience in the West, which he likens to a "migration," figures prominently in the form of Slinger .[9] The West, he claims, has been populated and formed by a "grand migratory effect" (V, 14).

But it is not only people who travel, who migrate in Dorn's poems; it is often the language of the poem that migrates across semantic or stylistic borders. The characteristic slippages in Dorn's style and voice to which I alluded earlier can easily be viewed as movements or migrations; indeed, the use of such a metaphor to describe literary language is suggested by Barthes in S/Z : the dissolve of voices "permet a l'enonciation de migrer d'un point de vue a l'autre" (my emphasis).[10] Barthes's term in the original French—migrer, "to migrate"—provides a much more vivid and concrete sense than does the English translation—"to shift"—of what is happening in such cases: the voice or point of view migrates from one place, one site in the linguis-


tic code, to another. It has no distinct place of residence, no "home" to return to, no identifiable origin of authorship: the point of view changes spaces like a migrating subject. Such a spatial metaphor is particularly relevant to Slinger, an epic voyage in which the original destination of Las Vegas (a place that epitomizes the absence of home, an ironic version of Odysseus's Ithaca) is never reached.

There is convincing evidence that Dorn is aware of such a connection between travel and language. In discussing Slinger with Robert Bertholf in 1974, Dorn explains his use of multiple voices in the poem as a by-product of spatial considerations: "I wanted to write a poem about the penetration of the only space anybody has ever run into, and that's multiple. I mean, I don't believe [in] the lone traveler, except for short distances. But even in the mind of a lone traveler there's a multitude of dialogue" (I, 61–62).

If Dorn is more interested in the space organized around "the collective voice" than he is in the isolated voice of any individual speaker, he is also intrigued by the way different voices and sources interact in the mind of a single person—the poet—as he or she moves through time and space. It is in this sense, perhaps, that Dorn most closely resembles Pound, Williams, and Olson, all of whom achieve a similar synthesis of sources. But Dorn differs radically from them in his emphasis on the language randomly picked up as a material in itself, not accountable to a given source of authority. It is for this reason that anonymous sources such as AM radio play an important role in Dorn's poetics: the radio, especially when listened to in a moving car, represents a source that has no easily identifiable geographic center and that is constantly changing as the local stations fade in and out. The "open road" of the West, along with the radio itself, becomes a potent image for the process of poetic composition; as Dorn aptly remarks, he is "always road-testing language for a particular form of speech" (I, 106).

If the testing of language that would ultimately result in Slinger did not begin, as Dorn claims, until he was in England in the mid-1960s, he had already begun to experiment with the


ironizing effects of wordplay and with the abrupt changes in diction and tone that would characterize the later style of Slinger . In "Idaho Out," Dorn demonstrates how far his poetic orientation has come since such earlier long poems as "Sousa" (1960) and "The Land Below" (1961). Dorn's use of language and discourse in the poem reflects a similarly changed poetic stance.

If the ironic juxtaposition of human and natural elements in "The Land Below" anticipates elements of "Idaho Out," the tone of Dorn's earlier poem finally resembles that of Williams's Paterson more than it does the mixture of irreverent humor and biting social and political satire characteristic of Dorn's later work. "Idaho Out," still in a sense a poem of the "local"—though a local encompassing parts of Idaho and Montana—is not primarily concerned with the localism that constitutes Dorn's earlier depiction of a small town in New Mexico, Olson's vision of Gloucester, or Williams's version of Paterson. Dorn's poem does follow Olson's attempts at a poetic embodiment of Carl Sauer's "morphology of landscape" and more particularly of Sauer's idea of a "cultural landscape" as "the impress of the works of man upon the [geographic] area."[11] But Dorn places greater emphasis than had his predecessor on humans as a destructive agent in nature, not simply participants in the natural "forces" constituting Olson's vision. Whereas Olson's poetry includes a generalized attempt to criticize the "pejorocracy" of contemporary culture, Dorn's poem has a more directly ecological and political agenda.

It is this more direct concern with a political agenda that leads Dorn to an intensified examination of the ways in which language is used by the dominant culture (through the agency of the popular media) to coopt or control human behavior and attitudes. One clear example of such a linguistic cooptation is that of the cliché, a widely disseminated belief that represents an oversimplification of reality. In "Idaho Out" a passage of geo-


graphical description slides easily into the language of cliché or, in this case, the self-conscious debunking of a cliché:

          Fort Benton
to your right, across stretches
of the cuts of the Blackfoot, through
Bowman's Corner, no
the sky

                is not

bigger in Montana.

(CPD, 115)

Dorn adopts the persona of the irreverent tour guide, first pointing out with some degree of specificity the historical and geographical highlights of the Montana landscape—"Fort Benton," "the cuts of the Blackfoot," "Bowman's Corner"—then abruptly changing registers of discourse as he refutes the seemingly unrelated cliché of Montana as a place where the sky is bigger. The tour guide figure driving around Montana and Idaho serves as another metaphor for Dorn's poetics of travel, thereby leading us through a range of discourses with uncertain origins. The cliché is an example of an utterance with no clear origin—it has been absorbed into mainstream culture as an infection of the language. In the lines that follow, he actually takes the reader across the state line as the scenic tour gives way to a darkly comic commentary on society's manipulation of natural space:

for instance you come
from Williston
there seems at the border a change
but it is only because man has
built a tavern there
and proclaims himself of service

(CPD, 115)

Here the irony lies in the gap between the fourth line, with its sense of rising expectation, and the following lines, which state the real reason for the change—a single tavern signaling in a fairly arbitrary way the crossing of the border but having nothing whatever to do with the romanticized (and media-inspired)


version of Montana as "big sky country." Dorn is interested in examining the reality behind such statements as a way of testing the referential value of language in our society. The ironic effect Dorn achieves in this passage by undermining the authority of the cliché reflects a more general skepticism about the capacity of language to be directly referential: "I've always been confused by those attempts to make language the same thing as the thing. I don't want to say again what Williams said ['No ideas but in things']—in fact I don't want to say that at all" (I 47). Emphasizing his own midwestern upbringing, Dorn explains his skepticism about language as similar to that of the Illinois farmer: "On the prairie there's a certain evasion—a linguistic evasion—of the word as such" (I, 39).

Dorn's evasion of the word as such can be seen most evidently in his frequent use of puns and wordplay. The pun, an example of words without clear borders, is an evasion of the referential meaning in favor of an unstable or migrating meaning. Word-plays such as "areal" and "Ariel" at the beginning of the poem and "newclear seance" for "nuclear science" later on anticipate the willful playfulness of Slinger . Dorn's persona speaks with a brand of ironic humor not present in the work of Pound, Williams, and Olson, one enacting a different relationship between language—particularly political language—and the world. The passage in which the second pun occurs is an interesting instance of Dorn's developing style, which is marked by self-conscious discursiveness:

But I was escorting you out of Pocatello,
sort of north.
Perhaps past that physiographic
menace the arco desert and
what's there
of the leakage of newclear seance

(CPD, 111)

In the somewhat elevated diction of "escorting," in the equivocation of "sort of north" and "perhaps," in the use of a curiously hybrid term such as "physiographic" and its juxtaposition with the more directly emotional "menace," in the lacka-


daisical quality of "what's there of the" followed by the vaguely threatening "leakage," and in the double pun in "newclear seance" (with its simultaneous suggestion of mysticism and propagandistic euphemism), we see an early manifestation of the characteristically playful and slippery poetry of Slinger . It is certainly a style already far removed from that of Pound and Olson. Later in the poem is a more sustained example of Dorn's juxtaposition of styles:

But not to go too much into
that ethnic shit, because
this is geographic business
already, in the bitterroot
there sat snow on the tallest
peaks and that moisture factor
caused trees now gliding by
from one minor drainage
to another until we came
to the great bitterroot
proper and the cottonwoods
and feather honey locusts
lining its rushing edges.

(CPD, 114)

Here the sociological comparison Dorn had made between the inhabitants of Montana and those of Idaho—"that ethnic shit"—gives way to an ecological study and finally comes to rest in a brief moment of lyrical beauty. The way in which the passage appears formally—as an uninterrupted flow of descriptive language emphasized by the ubiquitous enjambment, by the words gliding and rushing, and by the view of a landscape from the window of a passing car—disguise what is actually an unstable and shifting tonality. In Barthes's terms the "gliding by / from one minor drainage / to another" represents an instance of fading. Dorn's slippages or migrations into a new voice or discourse are not indicated by juxtaposition and fragmentation, as in Pound's writing, or by the line breaks, parentheses, or semantic spacing used by Olson. Although the two commas provide some clue to where transitions may occur within the passage, they do not account for the range of tones between


"that ethnic shit" and "lining its rushing edges." Not only the boundaries between such utterances but even their sources remain uncertain in the context of the poem as a whole, and we are left to question who our narrator-guide is and what kind of tour we are being given.

Perhaps the answer to both questions is to be found in Dorn's notion of poetry as exploration; in a letter to Olson, Dorn stresses Olson's "ability to start anywhere" in a poem.[12] Dorn's own penchant for narrative digressions implies a self-conscious awareness that not all content can be made to cohere within the boundaries of a poem and that there will inevitably be places where the poem can take a different turn or be made to include other material. Despite its underlying narrative of a trip from Idaho to Montana and back, the actual progress of "Idaho Out" is a maze of startings and stoppings, twistings and turnings. Dorn even calls attention to his own digressive style by constantly reminding the reader and himself of his purpose, the "direction" of his trip, which seems to become lost in the more interesting side trips the narrator takes into different ideas and discourses: "But I was escorting you out of Pocatello," or "Let me remind you we were in Florence / Montana." After one digression that seemingly alludes to Olson and Williams—"central america and the jerseys"—Dorn makes the laconic and self-conscious comment "But we stray / we strays, as we always do" (CPD, 110). He finally concludes that he sought to take the reader "out on a trip / that had no point" (CPD, 121). In the images of straying and a trip that had no point we again see examples of authorial discourse not only in migration but in the lack of a sense of direction or telos. Like the pun, the digression is a way of sliding across boundaries, a migration in language that mirrors a migration through space. In Dorn's poetry the digression functions as an example of what Michel de Certeau calls a "rhetoric of walking" (or in this case a "rhetoric of


driving," perhaps) in which the turns and detours of a pedestrian can be regarded as nontextual analogues for " 'turns of phrases' or 'stylistic figures.' "[13]

The final aspect of Dorn's use of discourses in "Idaho Out" that both distinguishes it from its predecessor texts and prepares the way for the writing of Slinger is the absorption of popular culture. At one point, after recounting a discussion with a local rancher about the relative merits of different kinds of soil, the speaker makes the seemingly irrelevant analogy "It's / like a boring popular song / all by himself he'd love / to rest his weary head / on somebody's else's shoulder / as he grows older" (CPD, 114). The use of pop culture extends to the description of people in the poem as well; the woman who fascinates the narrator throughout has a "jukeboxbody" and a "fabulatory build." In another passage describing the same woman, the discourse of pop-cultural sexuality is blended into that of geographical landscape to form a new sense of morphology: "she was a walking invitation / to a lovely party / her body was that tactile to the eye / or what I meant / she is part / of the morphology / the last distant place of idaho north, / already in effect Montana" (CPD, 112). Rather than seek to mythologize his subject in the way Olson or Pound might have done, Dorn treats her in purely sociocultural terms. Here it is the word tactile, with its open-ended sense of touch—sensual or scientific—that allows the sudden shift from jocular hip jargon to (apparently serious) geographical analysis.

After Geography Dorn's poetry increasingly foregrounds its involvement with a world of popular culture, first in political satires such as "The World Box-Score of 1966" and The North Atlantic Turbine and most prominently of all in Slinger, a poem in which Howard Hughes interacts with Parmenides, where towns have the names of television game shows (Truth or Consequences, New Mexico), and where the characters are taken


from television westerns, comic books, and 1960s drug culture. In a 1977 interview Dorn claims to rely on the Wall Street Journal and AM radio as well as various magazines for his primary sources. He wants above all to be a transmitter of randomly acquired but useful information:

I never made a systematic effort to use any [particular] sources. I always just selected what was on the air, in the radio sense. . . . I've never wanted to impose my own notions on the content. Except insofar as elements enter the context of my use, but not what they are. I consider one thing as good as another, whether it arises from science or the so-called humanities, the newspaper or a bubblegum wrapper. All that's equal to me, as source.    (I, 103)

By the time of Slinger the supremacy of "content" has been replaced in Dorn's work by "a slick, silly, superfast, super-intelligent" radioese; Dorn's use of language in the poem, as Michael Davidson shows, seeks to incorporate all available forms of rhetoric "as semiotic systems embedded in the surface of modern American life."[14] Dorn himself characterizes language as "an active audience, with its own ideas and its own content and its own need to make its expression" apart from any "psycho-philosophical pressure [that] has nothing to do with the poem."[15]

Various commentators have noted the way in which language appears to take over the poem—either as puns that "squirm free of a speaker's grip without warning" and metaphors that "refuse to stand still" (von Hallberg) or more globally in its resistance to any unified voice or stylistic continuity (Davidson, Golding). I am interested in how Slinger takes further some of the processes Dorn had begun to work out in "Idaho Out" and in how it more generally foregrounds language and discourse as part of a self-conscious framework of travel narrative.

From the start Slinger makes clear that it is a poem concerned as much as anything with language and language use. The nar-


rator of Book I, a character called simply "I," is a walking speech act. He seems, as Slinger himself tells him, to be "constructed of questions," and he is at one point accused of sounding "like the impact of a wet syllojsm." I is also, like all the characters encountered in Slinger, largely defined by the language he uses, by his own characteristic or predominant discourse. The form of a conversation between characters, which serves as the poem's basic structure, allows a foregrounding of discourses in a way that would not be possible within a poetic text controlled by the voice of a single speaker. I's formal and poeticizing discourse—which is marked by a penchant for classical epithets and for archaisms such as "Then sat we," "saith," and "If this be true"—is immediately contrasted with that of Lil, a stereotypical Western madame who speaks in a caricatured Western slang punctuated by such phrases as "Come up and see me anytime," "plum stumpt," and "up Boston way" and by contractions such as "outa" and "fastern." In a sense, both of these characters speak a language composed of cultural cliché.

The Gunslinger himself, the third human character present at the beginning of the poem (there is also a talking horse named Claude), appears to represent the middle ground between the speech of I and of Lil. His discourse is constantly sliding from one level to another and is thus an unlocatable hybrid of everything from slang and hip jargon, to philosophical and scientific discourse, to a language of poetic or epic grandeur. As the poem's version of the epic hero, he is a figure who not only voyages through space and time meeting "strangers" who exhibit new forms of discourse but who is himself an example of the modern polyglot, a linguistic migrant.

The opening pages of Slinger display a remarkable degree of self-consciousness on the part of the characters about how language is used. Lil in particular is bothered by the ridiculously high style of I: "and who is this / funny talker, you pick him up / in some sludgy seat of higher / learnin, Creeps!" Lil is offended by I's use of words such as "apogee" and "neurasthenic," but she is also capable of appropriating his discourse if she chooses; she says to Slinger, referring to I's linguistic style:


"Anyway, I remember you had / what your friend here / might call an obsession / about the man." Two pages later she is using words that sound more like I's speech than her own—"suggestive," "derisive"—and the awkward manner in which they punctuate her own discourse is indicated by a different typeface (S, 8–10).[16] Thus, even those characters who might be expected to represent "pure" discourses with clearly defined origins borrow from or become infected by the language of others. At the beginning of Book II, Dorn refers to the band of characters as a moving "tapestry"; they are thus not only linked but interwoven, with no clear borders between them.

I, too, is adaptable in his speech patterns, even within a single utterance. "I'm on that score not sure," he says to Slinger at one point, combining an archaically inverted syntax with a colloquial expression. Later in Book I, he describes a scene in which Slinger starts a jukebox with his gun:

A28, Joe Turner  Early in the Mornin
came out and lay on the turntable
His inquisitive .44 repeated the question
     and B13 clicked
Lightnin' Hopkins  Happy Blues for John Glenn
     and so on
the terse trajectories of silver then
the punctuations of his absolute .44
without even pushing the sombrero off his eyes

(S, 21)

I narrates the scene with a sense of epic heroism, but the tone of the passage is confused: it contains a jumble of joking wordplay ("his inquisitive .44 repeated the question"), alliterative poeticism ("terse trajectories of silver"), pop-cultural parody ("Happy Blues for John Glenn "), and deflating understatement ("and so on").

In Book II the introduction of a new narrator, the poet/singer of the "Abso-Lute," seems to elevate the overall tone to a higher level. If a hip Western talk was the normative discourse of the


first book, here it is something more like epic or mock-epic. The Poet is particularly fond of euphemisms such as "autotheistic chemical" for cocaine; even Slinger is influenced by the Poet's speech, as he begins to quote either real or parodic lines of Shakespearean iambic pentameter: "How like a winter hath my absence been," "When most I wink then do mine eyes best see," "Like as the waves make toward the Pebbled shore," and "Thus are his cheeks the map of days outworn." The Poet's poetry, contained in several "songs," is a further destabilization of language; these songs parody various discursive modes, resulting in a chaotic mixture of styles. The epic tone invades the descriptions of Book II as well, creating a linguistic fabric that is at once parodic and out of control. The opening invocation to the book's muse deteriorates quickly, but it is nonetheless a wonderfully suggestive passage of Dornian stylistic play:

Into the dry brilliance of the desert morning
Along the vanes of the willow leaves
Along the hallucination of the atmospheric realism
Into the upper reaches of the Yggdrasillic yoga
Over inner structure of the Human Thing
Like Unto the formation of the pinnate ash
in which our treehouse sways
and the samara goes winged, Oh wild Angelica!
Oh quickbeam! oh quake and swat into waking,
With aspergill enter Into the future

(S, 44–45)

If the death of the character I represents the relinquishing of the linguistic controls held in Book I by the rationalizing and normalizing ego, the Poet of Book II is at once a parodic (in)version of the classical poet and a figure for Dorn himself, a writer who claims that his "interest in the extreme heterogeneous vocabularies of English is fanatical."[17] A later description of Lil (now Miss Lil) as she looks at herself in the mirror is another example of the linguistic excess that courses through Slinger . "That ancient arrangement of amaranthine flesh / the quick aniline of flawless brow" (S, 55) is certainly as contrived a poetic euphemism as has ever been written. The euphemism,


another kind of linguistic evasion or slippage, becomes a characteristic device of this section of the poem. In describing the smell of the now decomposing body of I, the Poet proclaims, "As the Yellow Rose of Dawn climbs / he loses the light azimuthal fragrance of his arrival / and becomes a zenith / of aparticular attention" (S, 58). He then paraphrases his own statement in "ordinary" language: "There will be some along our way / to claim I stinks." By this point, Slinger's language seems to have assimilated that of the Poet. When asking a stranger for his name, Slinger puts the question in terms of a convoluted riddle:

How, dreamer,
will fate mark you
in her index when she comes dressed
as a crystalographer
to religne the tumblers
inside your genetic padlock?

(S, 80)

As becomes ever more apparent in the even more radical permutations of language in Books III and IV, no discourse can remain pure for very long in this poem (just as Kool Everything's "uncut batch" of "'1000 percent" pure cocaine cannot remain so); Dorn's constantly migrating fabric of language demonstrates that all discourse is ultimately borrowed from somewhere, infiltrated by someone else's usage.[18] Unlike the discourses quoted by Pound and Olson, each of which has a purity and a determinate origin even within the larger heteroglossic context, the discourses that constitute Dorn's many "styles" have no single origin, belong to or in no particular place. We cannot imagine Pound's Confucius speaking the language of Baldy Bacon, but in the poetry of Edward Dorn voices migrate, leaking through the holes in their porous discourses as they pass through an indeterminate landscape.


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9— Migrating Voices in the Poetry of Edward Dorn
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