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Edward Dorn's Geography

Geography , by Edward Dorn. London: Fulcrum Press, 1965.

This book returns to the orders of feeling and response a kind of intelligence that has been long absent from poetry written in America and England. There have certainly been 'political' poems in abundance, but these (with specific exception of the work of Allen Ginsberg, Robert Duncan, and Charles Olson—from each of whom Edward Dorn remains singularly distinct) have largely argued a use of existing evils in a way that seemed too simply satisfied with the fact of such circumstance, just that it provoked the poems in question. In short, such writing tended to promulgate the very attitudes and situations it seemed most to condemn, in a convenience of 'description'—in a luxury of hate and dissatisfaction that was otherwise not to be enjoyed.

But here—much as an anger is evident—there is a ranging knowledge of literal terms, a geography of actual location and of the space it has been forced to accept as a kind of time measured in miles and days and persons and things of an endless debris and confusion. Movement becomes "A modern group in cars . . ."

In the bitterness of the great desert
they tried to get comfortable in car seats.
Utterly left behind was
a mixed past, of friends and a comfortable house.

Stand 8, no. 2, 1966.


They felt sorry for themselves perhaps
for no real reason, there had never
been in their baggage more than a few stars
and a couple of moons, you've seen their surfaces
in pictures.
("West of Moab")

Edward Dorn speaks literally, so that the experience of these poems, both for himself and the readers of them, is neither a symbolism nor an imaginative transfer of reality into some relieving change. It is, rather, the dry, tough, drawn, harsh, unrelieved experience of the world as the mind and senses are permitted to disclose it, if they will stay unremittingly attentive to the specific qualities and quantities it manifests. There is the undistracted fact, then, of Mr. Dorn's belief that "the poem is an instrument of intellection / thus a condition / of the simultaneous . . ." Thus it is issue of what perception can afford in the instant of time when things are, as they are, met by nothing more than their recognition.

One might well note the relevance of this condition to much that has preceded it in America—for example, the dryness of Poe's intelligence and yet the sensuality of his experience; or what another poem of Mr. Dorn's from an earlier collection, Hands Up! , makes so evident:

Insofar as life can be lived
and can be stated , H  D  T
did well to write about it.
Became more than living, that hapless verb.
Became a survey of more than a hubbub
of the days in which axes & bread,
ponds, window with bars out of which
to look and be disobedient, mere tools
of distraction. Altho I don't
say much for the crabby writing.
I like the clarity. Nor have much use
for the temper, but he was alive.
Knowing we can't be forever waiting for the appraisor.
In america every art has to reach toward some
clarity. That is our hope from the start.
("The Land Below")

That Thoreau gained particularity in writing is much to the point here—and that Edward Dorn shares with him in that particularity the fact that—


My desire is to be
a classical poet
my gods have been men . . .
and women.
("Idaho Out")

Or also:

Thus a window
is that seemingly clear opening our tested knowledges
pass through and the world shakes not at all
before the weight of our disappointments, you will
and would be part of the new hemisphere
until it dies of the same old loosely wrought manifestoes.
All those sounds from the broken washing machine
are trying to tell you something sweetheart don't laugh
one day it will speak and not stop
all things have an insistence of their own.
("Six Views from the Same Window
              of the Northside Grocery")

There is so much that instructs in this book—not as an aggression or cheap privacy, but as the intensity of such careful thought and weighed insight at times it is heartbreaking to realize how much the possibilities of speech mean to this man. He is possessed of a lovely ear:

If the world
or a life
or all of this
all the pleasures
we do not sow
and those we do
sometime end . . .

These are poems of a deeply articulate beauty, and, at moments, of such a catch of fragmented relief—

Daffodil Song

The horns of yellow
          on this plain resound
        and the twist on the air
of their brilliance


                  Say where
say where I will find
a love
            or an arabesque
of such rash fortune.


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