Minding the Darkness: A Poem for the Year 2000

Peter Dale Scott, Author New Directions Publishing Corporation $21.95 (264p) ISBN 978-0-8112-1454-4
Now in his 70s, Scott is one of America's most trenchant political researchers, having written a meticulously documented magnum opus on the Kennedy assassination (Deep Politics and the Death of JFK), as well as books on the CIA connections to Central American drug trafficking, the Iran-Contra affair and Watergate. Completing his poetic trilogy Seculum--written over the course of 20 years and including Coming to Jakarta (1989) and Listening to the Candle (1992)--...Darkness, written in five long sequences in tercets, continues and develops Scott's political and poetic preoccupations, gracefully interweaving elements of autobiography, philosophy and history with a patient, modest line that strongly recalls the late Pound's cantos. Though the style sometimes lacks freshness, it serves Scott well in the documentary aspect of the work, exploring and recalling the '60s antiwar movement; the darker truths of American foreign policy in the Philippines, Indonesia and Central America; the power and history of international banking and the relation of money to politics; and much more. The whole thing is densely packed with hundreds of quotations, most frequently from Dante, Virgil, the Bible, Homer, Kant, Wordsworth, and others of their stature, as well as Howard Zinn, Chomsky and Scott's own political writings, with notes and translation sharing space with the poetry. All of this material mixes freely with reminiscences of Scott's parents, his life as a university professor and researcher, and sections of straightforward Zen poetry; the book is as much a memoir and an essay as is it poetry. Scott mostly eschews pedantics on all fronts in favor of a kind of crystal-clear poetic investigative reporting, where a healthy dose of uncertainly is allowed: ""where what matters/ are not just the structural patterns/ but the patterns in chaos,"" but he is at his most compelling when the book learning moves to the periphery and personal experience and thought come together in moments of simple, unflinching resolve: ""the only time I ever managed to shock and audience/ one that thought itself quite comfortable/ with blasphemes against God/ was when I said/ right into the microphone/ I prefer truth to fiction."" This Darkness insists on clarity, often returning to the theme of ill-governance and brilliantly working against the tendency to separate the personal--and the poetic--from the political, and is thus the perfect book for a rancorous election season. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 10/02/2000
Release date: 10/01/2000
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