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Preface to Selected Poems

by Edward Dorn

There are a few people always in the world to stand for—to stand up for, I'd wanted to say—the possibilities of being human. If you look up the word poetry , in a usual dictionary, you'll find it's something written by a poet. If you look up poet , you'll find it's someone who writes poetry. Mr. Dorn is such a poet, and his poems are so much the definition of what a poet can do, humanly, that my proposals here will be both brief and simple.

First of all, Charles Olson used to speak of Edward Dorn's Elizabethan care for the sound of syllables. That is, he was very respectful of this poet's ability to make every edge of the sound in words articulate. He didn't just go pounding along on the vowels, o sole mio , etc.; he obviously enjoyed all the specific quality of sound that one could also make sing, e.g.,

                                                 . . . I don't
want a rick of green wood, I told him
I want cherry or alder or something strong
and thin, or thick if dry, but I don't
want the green wood, my wife would die . . .

It's not easy to make "or alder" feel so comfortable a thing to say, and you'll see, or rather, hear, how he goes on playing this sound in the next line of this first poem here, an early one indeed.

Second, Mr. Dorn has always taken himself seriously, by which I mean he thought he, like all humans, counted for something. Years

Edward Dorn, Selected Poems , ed. Donald Allen (Bolinas, Calif.: Greyfox Press, 1978).


ago he told me a very moving story of how, the night of the graduation dance at the high school he'd gone to in Villa Grove, Illinois, he and his date—she was wearing the classic white prom dress—climbed to the top of the local water tower, and looked out on the world, literally, on the lights of the town, the flatness, the unrelieved real life that somehow still had to be hopeful. He has never lost that care, or humor, or anger, at what the world wants at times to do to itself. No poet has been more painfully, movingly, political —because he has been as all humans only one, yet one of many. He will not yield his specific humanness to God or anyone else.

And last—recalling Ezra Pound's notion, that only emotion endures —the range and explicit register of Edward Dorn's ability to feel how it actually is to be human, in a given place and time, is phenomenal. So many people will tell you what you're supposed to feel, and what a drear bore that is. But in reading these poems, you will hear and feel another human's life as closely and as intimately as that will ever be possible. And that is the power of this art.

That said, I can now confess to how intimidating this occasion has been for me. A "preface" for Ed Dorn's poems? Not even a sunrise could quite manage that.

Placitas, N.M.
May 28, 1978


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Preface to Selected Poems
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