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About this poet

Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, on June 1, 1935, Clayton Eshleman earned a BA in philosophy and an MA in creative writing, both from Indiana University. The author of more than thirty books, his collections of poetry include: Reciprocal Distillations (Hot Whiskey Press, 2007), An Alchemist with One Eye on Fire (2006), and Archaic Design (Black Widow Press, 2007).

He has also published books of essays, prose, and interviews, including Companion Spider (Wesleyan, 2002), Antiphonal Swing: Selected Prose, 1962-1987 (1989) and Novices: A Study of Poetic Apprenticeship (1989).

From 1967 to 2000, Eshleman founded and edited two of the most seminal and highly-regarded literary magazines of the period. Twenty issues of Caterpillar appeared between 1967 and 1973. Selections from the magazine were collected as A Caterpillar Anthology (1971). In 1981, while Dreyfuss Poet in Residence at the California Institute of Technology, Eshleman founded Sulfur magazine. The forty-sixth and final issue of Sulfur, which received thirteen National Endowment for the Arts grants, was published in 2000.

From 1979 to 1986, Eshleman was a regular reviewer for the Los Angeles Times Book Review, contributing fifty-one articles on books by Ashbery, Bishop, Milosz, Montale, Olson, Rilke, Whitman, and many others.

He has also been a full-time translator since the early 1960s. He is the main American translator of César Vallejo (with José Rubia Barcia) and of Aimé Césaire (with Annette Smith). He received the National Book Award in 1979 for his co-translation of César Vallejo's Complete Posthumous Poetry.

His translation of Vallejo's Trilce (Wesleyan University Press, 2000) was co-winner of the Academy of American Poets' 2001 Harold Morton Landon Translation Award. He received a second Harold Morton Landon Translation Award in 2008 for his translation of The Complete Poetry of César Vallejo (University of California Press, 2007).

Eshleman has also translated books by Antonin Artaud, Bernard Bador, Michel Deguy, Vladimir Holan, and Pablo Neruda. With Gyula Kodolanyi, he edited and translated a book-length selection of post-World War II Hungarian poetry, which appeared in Sulfur 21.

His poetry has appeared in numerous anthologies, most recently American Poetry Since 1950: Innovators and Outsiders (ed. Eliot Weinberger, 1993) and Postmodern American Poetry (ed. Paul Hoover, 1994). Since the late 1960s he has read his poetry and translations at more than three hundred American, European, and Latin American universities, including two readings at the Library of Congress.

Eshleman's awards and honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship, several fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, and several research fellowships from Eastern Michigan University. He is a professor of English at Eastern Michigan University, and lives in Ypsilanti, Michigan.

A Selected Bibliography

Poetry

Cantaloups and Splendour (Black Sparrow Press, 1968)
Indiana (1969)
Coils (1973)
Realignment (1974)
The Gull Wall (1975)
Fracture (1983)
The Name Encanyoned River: Selected Poems 1960-1985 (1985)
Hotel Cro-Magnon (1989)
Under World Arrest (1994)
From Scratch (1998)
My Devotion: New Poems (2004)
An Alchemist with One Eye on Fire (Black Widow Press, 2006)
Archaic Design (2007)
Reciprocal Distillations (Hot Whiskey Press, 2007)

Prose

Antiphonal Swing: Selected Prose, 1962-1987 (McPherson, 1989)
Novices: A Study of Poetic Apprenticeship (Arundel, 1989)
Companion Spider (Wesleyan, 2002)

Translation

The Collected Poetry by Aimé Césaire (University of California Press, 1984)
Trilce by César Vallejo (Wesleyan University Press, 2000)
Notebook of a Return to the Native Land by Aimé Césaire (Wesleyan, 2001)
The Complete Poetry of César Vallejo (University of California Press, 2007)

Notes on a Visit to Le Tuc D'Audoubert

Clayton Eshleman, 1935

for Robert Bégouën
 

bundled by Tuc's tight jagged
    corridors, flocks of white
  stone tits, their milk in long
    stone nipply drips, frozen over

  the underground Volp in which
 the enormous guardian eel,
now unknown, lies coiled--

 

to be impressed (in-pressed?) by this
primordial "theater of cruelty"--
    by its keelhaul sorcery

 

    Volp mouth--the tongue of the
        river lifting one in--

to be masticated by Le Tuc d'Audoubert's
  cruel stones--
        the loom of the cave

  Up the oblique chimney by ladder to iron cleats set 
in the rock face to the cathole,
on one's stomach
    to crawl,          working against
                     one, pinning one
as the earth        in, to, it, to
makes one                    feel for an instant
feel its traction--             the dread of
                    WITHERING IN
                       PLACE

     --pinned in--
    The Meat Server
  masticated by the broken
   chariot of the earth

     

cave art example 4

                 *

 "fantastic figures"--more beast-
     like here than human--one
horn one ear--    one large figure
                  one small figure

      as in Lascaux?
  (the grand and petit sorcerer?)

First indications of master/
  apprentice? ("tanist" re. Graves)



the  grotesque  archetype
___  _________  _________

    vortex in which the emergent
  human and withdrawing animal
    are spun--
        ____


            grotesque = movement



(life is grotesque when we catch
    it in quick perceptions--
  at full vent--history
   shaping itself)

the turns/twists of the cave 
  reinforce the image turbine--
as does the underground river,

              the cave floats,
       in a sense, in several senses,
                all at once,
    it rests on the river, is penetrated
         by it, was originally made
            by rushing water--
                 the cave
             is the skeleton of flood


images on its walls
  participate, thus, as torsion,
in an earlier torsion--

Here one might synthesize:
    1) abstract signs 
         initiate movement
           brought to rest in

    3) naturalistic figures 
         (bison, horses etc)

    In between, the friction, are

    2) grotesque hybrids

(useful--but irrelevant to systematize forces that must have been 
felt as flux, as unplanned, spontaneous, as were the spots/areas in 
caves chosen for images--because shadowing or wall contour 
evoked an animal? Any plan a coincidence--we have no right to 
systematize an area of experience of which we have only shat-
tered iceberg tips--yet it does seem that "image" occurs at the 
point that a "naturalistic" ibex is gouged in rock across an 
"abstract" vulva already gouged there, so that the rudiments of 
poetry are present at approximately 30,000 BC--

    image is crossbreeding, 
    or the refusal to respect 
    the single, individuated body, 
    image is that point 
    where sight crosses sight--

to be alive as a poet is to be
    in conversation with one's eyes)

What impresses at Tuc is a relationship
between river
        hybrid figures
        and the clay bison--

it is as if the river (the skeleton of water = the cave itself) erupts
into image with the hybrid "guardians" (Breuil's guess) and is 
brought to rest in the terminal chamber with the two bison i.e., 
naturalism is a kind of rest--naturalism returns us to a continu-
ous and predictable nature (though there is something unnatural 
about these bison to be noted later)--takes us out of the discon-
tinuity, the transgression (to cite Bataille's slightly too Catholic 
term) of the grotesque
    (though the grotesque, on another level, according to 
Bakhtin, is deeper continuity, the association of realms, king-
doms, fecundation and death, degradation and praise--)

on one hand: bisons-about-to-couple 
   assert the generative
   what we today take to be
   the way things are	 (though with ecological pollution, 
                          "generation" leads to mutation,
                          a new "grotesque"!)

                 *

   to be gripped by a womb of stone
   to be in the grip of the surge of life
   imprisoned in stone

it is enough to make one sweat one's animal

(having left the "nuptual hall" of white stone breasts in which 
one can amply stand--the breasts hang in clusters right over one's 
head--one must then squirm vertically up the spiral chimney (or 
use the current iron ladder) to enter the upper level via a cathole 
into a corridor through which one must crawl on hands and 
knees--then another longish cathole through which one must 
crawl on one's belly, squirming through a human-sized tunnel--
to a corridor through which one can walk haltingly, stooping, 
occasionally slithering through vertical catslits and straddling 
short walls)--
    if one were to film one's postures through this entire process,
it might look like a St.-Vitus dance of the stages in the life of man, 
birth channel expulsion to old age, but without chronological 
order, a jumble of exaggerated and strained positions that corres-
pondingly increase the image pressure in one's mind--

    while in Le Tuc d'Audoubert I felt the broken horse rear in
agony in the cave-like stable of Picasso's Guernica, 
    at times I wanted to leave my feet behind, or to continue
headless in the dark, my stomach desired prawn-like legs with 
grippers, my organs were in the way, something inside of me 
wanted to be
   an armored worm, 
   one feeler extending out its head, 
   I swear I sensed the disintegration of the backbone of my
mother now buried 12 years,
   entangled in a cathole I felt my tongue start to press back-
wards, and the image force was: I wanted to choke myself out of 
myself, to give birth to my own strangulation, and then nurse 
my strangulation at my own useless male breasts-useless? No, for 
Le Tuc d'Audoubert unlocks memories that bear on a single face 
the expressions of both Judith and Holofernes at the moment of 
beheading, mingled disgust terror delight and awe, one is stimu-
lated to desire to enter cavities within oneself where dead men 
can be heard talking-- 
    in Le Tuc d'Audoubert I heard something in me whisper me
to believe in God
    and something else in me whispered that the command was 
the rasp of a 6000 year old man who wished to be venerated 
again-- 
    and if what I am saying here is vague it is because both voices
had to sound themselves in the bowels of this most personal and 
impersonal stone, in which sheets of myself felt themselves cor-
rugated with nipples-as if the anatomy of life could be described, 
from this perspective, as entwisted tubes of nippled stone through 
which perpetual and mutual beheadings and birthings were tak-
ing place--

                 *

    but all these fantastic images were shooed away the moment 
I laid eyes on the two bison sculptured out of clay leaned against 
stuff fallen from the chamber ceiling-- 
    the bison and their "altar" seemed to be squeezed up into
view out of the swelling of the chamber floor-- 
    the sense of culmination was very severe, the male about to
mount the female, but clearly placed several inches behind and 
above her, not in contact with any part of her body, and he had no 
member-- 
    if they were coupling, and without deep cracks in their clay 
bodies, they would have disappeared into their progeny thousands 
of years ago, but here they are today still, as if Michelangelo were 
to have depicted God and man as not touching, but only reaching 
toward each other, caught in the exhaustion of a yearning for a 
sparking that has in fact never taken place, so that the weight of 
all the cisterns in the world is in that yearning, in the weight of 
that yearning is the real ballast in life, a ballast in which the 
unborn are coddled like slowly cooking eggs, unborn bison and 
unborn man, in the crib of a scrotum, a bone scrotum, that 
jailhouse of generation from which the prisoners yearn to leap 
onto the taffy machine-like pistons of shaping females-- 
    it is that spot where the leap should occur that Le Tuc d'Au-
doubert says is VOID, and that unfilled space between two fertile 
poles here feels like the origin of the abyss, as if in the minds of 
those who shaped and placed these two bison, fertilization was 
pulled free, and that freedom from connection is the demon of
creation haunting man and woman ever since-- 
    we crawled on hands and knees about this scene, humbled, in
single file, lower than the scene, human creatures come, lamps 
in hand like a glowworm pilgrimage, to worship in circular crawl 
at one of the births of the abyss-- 
    if I had stayed longer, if I had not with the others disappeared 
into the organic odors of the Montesquieu-Avant&egraves woods, I am 
sure that I would have noticed, flittering out of the deep cracks in 
the bison clay, little winged things, image babies set free, the 
Odyssi before Odysseus who still wander the vaults of what we 
call art seeking new abysses to inscribe with the tuning forks of 
their wings . . .

From Juniper Fuse: Upper Paleolithic Imagination and the Construction of the Underworld, as yet unpublished. Copyright © 2000 by Clayton Eshleman. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

From Juniper Fuse: Upper Paleolithic Imagination and the Construction of the Underworld, as yet unpublished. Copyright © 2000 by Clayton Eshleman. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Claudia Emerson

Clayton Eshleman

Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1935, Clayton Eshleman is the author of many collections of poetry and translation

by this poet

poem

for Jerome Rothenberg
 

Anguish, a door, Le Portel, the body bent over jagged rock, 
in ooze, crawling in darkness to trace the button of itself
--or to unbutton the obscure cage in which a person and an 
animal are copulas--or are they delynxing each other? Or 
are they already subject and
poem
Patters, paters, Apollo globes, sound 
breaking up with silence, coals 
I can still hear, entanglement of sense pools, 
the way a cave might leak perfume--

in the Cro-Magnons went, along its wet hide walls, 
as if a flower in, way in, drew their leggy 
panspermatic bodies, spidering over 
bottomless hunches,
poem
Dot
Unicellular sac pressed 
fingertips,

two dots, a me 
row--or a herow? a meandering 
red moist

blastospore, a multicellular 
dot-filled wall, 
lubricious prefiguration of Hermes
who swings with

heat of the amoeba need
soldered to sprout

desire, an earthworm psyche 
spiderline, tunneling on the leash of the