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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)

Placements I: "The New Wilderness"

Clayton Eshleman, 1935

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 predicate in the amniotic cave 
air watching each other across the word barrier, the flesh?

                              *

At arm's length the image, my focus the extent of my reach. 
Where I end the other begins. And is not all art which gen-
uinely moves us done in the "dark" against a "wall"? Olson's 
whisper (a prayer), "(boundary
            Disappear."

                              *

Artaud's hatred of depth near the end of his life. All real 
action, he ranted, was at surface. Beyond? Nothing. Below 
and above? Nothing. At the same time he desired to be or-
ganless, eternal. James Hiliman writes: "Every rebirth fan-
tasy in psychology may be a defense against depth." If com-
ing up out of the cave of night can mean an openness to know-
ing we've never left the cave, then rebirth ceases to be an-
tagonistic to depth.

                              *

The beginning of the construction of the underworld takes
place in Upper Paleolithic caves. To identify this "place
under construction," I use the later Greek word "Hades,"
and it is there that the first evidence of psyche we can 
relate to occurs. To be in the cave is to be inside an an-
imal--a womb--but to draw there is to seek another kind of
birth; an adjustment to the crisis of the animal separat-
ing out of the human--or, the Fall. To be inside, to be 
hidden, to be in Hades--where the human hides in the animal.

                              *

Semi-conscious scanning through the lich gate. Wandering 
the winding windows of images. Knowing that as we see through, 
we only at best see into dream to touch the cave wall socket 
in which the current is called animal. Its adamant muzzle 
confers moisture on my deathly palm.

                              *

Since the hidden is bottomless, totality is more invisible 
than visible. Insistence on a totality in which life is tot-
ally visible, is the anti-dream, Hades deprived of his cave, 
Satan attempting to establish a kingdom--or death camp--
solely on earth.

                              *

As species disappear, the Upper Paleolithic grows more vivid. 
As living animals disappear, the first outlines become more 
dear, not as reflections of a day world, but as the primal
outlines of psyche, the shaping of the underworld, the point 
at which Hades was an animal. The "new wilderness" is thus 
the spectral realm created by the going out of animal life
and the coming in, in our time, of these primary outlines.
Our tragedy is to search further and further back for a
common non-racial trunk in which the animal is not separated
out of the human, while we destroy the turf on which we
actually stand.

From Juniper Fuse: Upper Paleolithic Imagination and the Construction of the Underworld (Weselayan, 2003). Copyright © 2000 by Clayton Eshleman. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

From Juniper Fuse: Upper Paleolithic Imagination and the Construction of the Underworld (Weselayan, 2003). 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
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
poem

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--

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,