From Scratch

Clayton Eshleman, Author Black Sparrow Press $28.95 (200p) ISBN 978-1-57423-071-0
Eshleman's latest is a mixed bag: three long poems focus on the artists Nora Jaffe and Chaim Soutine, and the poet Antonin Artaud; several shorter ones contemplate Upper Paleolithic cave art; others ponder works by de Kooning or take inspiration from Blake's heroism. (Eshleman appends 10 pages of endnotes to explain all of his influences and borrowings.) There's much to admire in their eclecticism, sheer expressive energy and stretches of musicality, but Eshleman's main tendency in this 13th collection is toward excess: poems dart among subjects and digressions, turn diarylike in their ramblings, and plunge into nearly numbing description, particularly of paintings. Some will wonder whether Eshleman's eagerness to document his sensibility has left him too little time for revision, but that may be the point here. In defending his endnotes (one of the book's most entertaining sections) Eshleman disparages ""a purist vision of the poem as a kind of mystical flower without a stem, rootwork, or dirt."" The reader appreciates a glimpse into the workings of this poet's inspiration, but may not be willing to venture far into the muck. Still, the intermittent ""killed-out image/ the sensation of a plunging rise,/ a fall so total it swerved into ascent"" will be enough incentive for others. (Sept.) FYI: Eshleman is the founder and editor of Sulfur, a contemporary arts journal.
Reviewed on: 06/01/1998
Release date: 06/01/1998
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