Nationality: American. Born: Indianapolis, Indiana, 1 June 1935. Education: Indiana University, Bloomington, 1953–61, B.A. in philosophy 1958, M.A. in creative writing 1961. Family: Married 1) Barbara Novak in 1961 (divorced 1967), one son; 2) Caryl Reiter in 1969. Career: Instructor, University of Maryland Eastern Overseas Division, Taiwan, Korea, and Japan, 1961–62; instructor in English, Matsushita Electric Corporation, Osaka, Japan, 1962–64; lived in Peru, 1965; instructor, New York University American Language Institute, 1966–68; member of the School of Critical Studies, California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, 1970–72; taught at University of California, Los Angeles, 1975–77; taught in a black ghetto high school in Los Angeles (California Arts Council grant), 1977–78; visiting lecturer in creative writing, University of California, San Diego, Riverside, Los Angeles, and Santa Barbara, 1979–86; Dreyfuss poet-in-residence, and lecturer, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, 1979–84. Since 1986 professor of English, Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti. Editor, Folio, Bloomington, Indiana, 1959–60; publisher, Caterpillar Books, 1966–68, and editor, Caterpillar magazine, New York, 1967–70, and Sherman Oaks, California, 1970–73; reviewer, Los Angeles Times Book Review, 1979–86. Since 1981 founder and editor, Sulfur magazine, Pasadena, then Ypsilanti, Michigan. Awards: National Translation Center award, 1967, 1968; Union League Civic and Arts Foundation prize (Poetry, Chicago), 1968; National Endowment for the Arts grant, 1969, fellowship, 1979, 1981; Coordinating Council of Literary Magazines grant, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1975; P.E.N. award, for translation, 1977; Guggenheim fellowship, 1978; National Book award, for translation, 1979; National Endowment for the Humanities grant, 1980, fellowship, 1981; Soros Foundation travel grant, 1986; Cooper fellow, Swarthmore College, 1987; National Endowment for the Arts translation fellowship, 1988; Michigan Arts Council grant, 1988; Distinguished Faculty Research/Creativity award, 1989, and Faculty Research fellowship, 1990, Eastern Michigan University; Michigan Artists award, the Arts Foundation of Michigan, 1992; Academic Specialist grant, U.S.I.A., Mexican Translation Project, 1992. Address: 210 Washtenaw Avenue, Ypsilanti, Michigan 48197, U.S.A.
Mexico and North. Privately printed, 1962.
The Chavin Illumination. Lima, Peru, and La Rama, Florida, 1965.
Lachrymae Mateo: 3 Poems for Christmas 1966. New York, Caterpillar, 1966.
Walks. New York, Caterpillar, 1967.
The Crocus Bud. Reno, Nevada, Camels Coming, 1967.
Brother Stones. New York, Caterpillar, 1968.
Cantaloups and Splendour. Los Angeles, Black Sparrow Press, 1968.
T'ai. Cambridge, Massachusetts, Sans Souci Press, 1969.
The House of Okumura. Toronto, Weed/Flower Press, 1969.
Indiana. Los Angeles, Black Sparrow Press, 1969.
The House of Ibuki: A Poem, New York City, 14 March-30 Sept. 1967.
Fremont, Michigan, Sumac Press, 1969.
Yellow River Record. London, Big Venus, 1969.
A Pitchblende. San Francisco, Maya, 1969.
The Wand. Santa Barbara, California, Capricorn Press, 1971.
Bearings. Santa Barbara, California, Capricorn Press, 1971.
Altars. Los Angeles, Black Sparrow Press, 1971.
The Sanjo Bridge. Los Angeles, Black Sparrow Press, 1972.
Coils. Los Angeles, Black Sparrow Press, 1973.
Human Wedding. Los Angeles, Black Sparrow Press, 1973.
The Last Judgment: For Caryl Her Thirty-First Birthday, The End of Her Pain. Los Angeles, Plantin Press, 1973.
Aux Morts. Los Angeles, Black Sparrow Press, 1974.
Realignment. Providence, Rhode Island, Treacle Press, 1974.
Portrait of Francis Bacon. Sheffield, Rivelin Press, 1975.
The Cull Wall: Poems and Essays. Los Angeles, Black Sparrow Press, 1975.
Cogollo. Newton, Massachusetts, Roxbury, 1976.
The Woman Who Saw Through Paradise. Lawrence, Kansas, Tansy Press, 1976.
Grotesca. London, New London Pride, 1977.
On Mules Sent from Chavin: A Journal and Poems 1965–66. Swansea, Galloping Dog Press, 1977.
Core Meander. Santa Barbara, California, Black Sparrow Press, 1977.
The Name Encanyoned River. New Paltz, New York, Treacle Press, 1977.
The Gospel of Celine Arnauld. Willits, California, Tuumba Press, 1978.
What She Means. Santa Barbara, California, Black Sparrow Press, 1978.
A Note on Apprenticeship. Chicago, Two Hands Press, 1979.
The Lich Gate. Barrytown, New York, Station Hill Press, 1980.
Nights We Put the Rock Together. Santa Barbara, California, Cadmus, 1980.
Our Lady of the Three-Pronged Devil. New York, Red Ozier Press, 1981.
Hades in Manganese. Santa Barbara, California, Black Sparrow Press, 1981.
Foetus Graffiti. East Haven, Connecticut, Pharos Press, 1981.
Fracture. Santa Barbara, California, Black Sparrow Press, 1983.
Visions of the Fathers of Lascaux. Los Angeles, Panjandrum, 1983.
The Name Encanyoned River: Selected Poems 1960–1985. Santa Barbara, California, Black Sparrow Press, 1986.
Hotel Cro-Magnon. Santa Rosa, California, Black Sparrow Press, 1989.
Under World Arrest. Santa Rosa, California, Black Sparrow Press, 1994.
Nora's Roar. Boulder, Colorado, Rodent Press, 1996.
From Scratch. Santa Rosa, California, Black Sparrow Press, 1998.
Antiphonal Swing: Selected Prose 1962–1987. Kingston, New York, McPherson, 1989.
Novices: A Study of Poetic Apprenticeship. Los Angeles, Mercer and Aitchison. 1989.
Editor, A Caterpillar Anthology: A Selection of Poetry and Prose from Caterpillar Magazine. New York, Doubleday, 1971.
Editor, The Parallel Voyages, by Paul Blackburn. Tucson, Arizona, Sun/Gemini Press, 1987.
Editor and Translator, Conductors of the Pit: Major Works by Rimbaud, Vallejo, Césaire, Artaud, and Holan. New York, Paragon House, 1988.
Translator, with Denis Kelly, State of the Union, by Aimé Césaire. Bloomington, Indiana, Caterpillar, 1966.
Translator, Seven Poems, by Cesar Valléjo. Reno, Nevada, Quark, 1967.
Translator, Poémas Humanos/Human Poems, by Cesar Vallejo. New York, Grove Press, 1968; London, Cape, 1969.
Translator, with José Rubia Barcia, Spain, Take This Cup from Me, by César Vallejo. New York, Grove Press, 1974.
Translator, Letter to André Breton, by Antonin Artaud. Los Angeles, Black Sparrow Press, 1974.
Translator, with Norman Glass, To Have Done with the Judgement of God, by Antonin Artaud. Los Angeles, Black Sparrow Press, 1975.
Translator, with Norman Glass, Artaud the Momo, by Antonin Artaud. Santa Barbara, California, Black Sparrow Press, 1976.
Translator, with José Rubia Barcia, Battles in Spain, by César Vallejo. Santa Barbara, California, Black Sparrow Press, 1978.
Translator, with José Rubia Barcia, The Complete Posthumous Poetry, by César Vallejo. Berkeley, University of California Press, 1978.
Translator, with Annette Smith, Notebook of a Return to the Native Land, by Aimé Césaire. New York, Montemora, 1979.
Translator, with Norman Glass, Four Texts, by Antonin Artaud. Los Angeles, Panjandrum, 1982.
Translator, with Annette Smith, The Collected Poetry, by Aimé Césaire. Berkeley, University of California Press, 1983.
Translator, Given Giving: Selected Poems of Michel Deguy. Berkeley, University of California Press, 1984.
Translator, with A. James Arnold, Chanson, by Antonin Artaud. New York, Red Ozier Press, 1985.
Translator, with Annette Smith, Lost Body, by Aimé Césaire. New York, Braziller, 1986.
Translator, Sea-Urchin Harakiri, by Bernard Bador. Los Angeles, Panjandrum, 1986.
Translator, with Annette Smith, Lyric and Dramatic Poetry 1946–1982, by Aimé Césaire. Charlottesville, University Press of Virginia, 1990.
Translator, Trilce, by César Vallejo, New York, Marsilio, 1992.
Translator, Watchfiends & Rack Screams, by Antonin Artaud. Boston, Exact Change, 1995.*
Manuscript Collections: Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington; Fales Collection, New York University; University of California, San Diego.
Critical Studies: "Altars and a Caterpillar Anthology" by Hayden Carruth, in New York Times Book Review, 13 February 1972; Clayton Eshleman issue of Oasis 19 (London), 1977; "Hades in Manganese" by Donald Wesling, in American Book Review (New York), May/ June 1982; "Inscribing the Fall" by A. James Arnold, in Virginia Quarterly Review (Charlottesville), winter 1983; "The Visionary Poetry of Clayton Eshleman" by Diane Wakoski, in American Poetry 3 (Albuquerque),1984; "Black Themes in Surreal Guise" by Serge Gavronsky, in New York Times Sunday Book Review, 19 February 1984; "Back to the Mind Cradles," in Bluefish (Southampton, New York), 2, 1984; and Minding the Underworld: Eshleman and Late Post-Modernism, Santa Rosa, California, Black Sparrow Press, 1991, both by Paul Christensen; "Through a Glass Darkly" by Christopher Maurer, in The New Republic (Washington, D.C.), 22 July 1993; "Impenetrable" by Jason Wilson, in Times Literary Supplement (London), 23 July 1993; "Spinal Traffic" by Kenneth Warren, in American Book Review (New York), June 1996; "On-Site Inspection" by John Olson, in American Book Review (New York), December/January 1996–97.
Clayton Eshleman comments:
As species disappear, the Paleolithic grows on us; as living animals disappear, the first outlines become more dear, not as reflections of a day world but as the primal contours of psyche, the shaping of the underworld at the point Hades was an animal. The new wilderness is thus the spectral realm created by the going out of animal life and the coming in of these primary outlines. Our tragedy is to search further and further back for a common nonracial trunk in which the animal is not separated out of the human while we destroy the turf on which we actually stand.
My poetics are based on a belief that there is an archetypal poem and that its most ancient design is probably the labyrinth. One suddenly cuts in, leaving the green world for the apparent stasis and darkness of the cave. The first words of a poem, from this viewpoint, propose and nose forward toward a confrontation with what the writer is only partially aware of, or may not be prepared to address until it emerges, flushed forth by meanders and dead ends. Poetry twists toward the unknown and seeks to realize something beyond the poet's initial awareness. What it seeks to know might be described as the unlimited interiority of its initial impetus.* * *
For any reader interested in a poet's processes of self-discovery, Clayton Eshleman must be a primary figure. Since 1962, when he published his first chapbook of poems, Eshleman has been searching—in private ways through Reichian therapy, Scientology, and Jungian theory; in literary ways through translating the works of César Vallejo and Aimé Césaire; in critical ways through editing his magazines Caterpillar and Sulfur; and in historical ways through his researches into Paleolithic caves in France—for a means to throw off the swaddled, bourgeois Midwestern American identity he was born with and to emerge as a completely self-created new man.
What an odyssey Eshleman has made, from Indiana through Mexico and Peru, then Japan, New York, and Los Angeles, and finally back to the Midwest. Eshleman himself calls his journey a "meander" rather than an odyssey, one that follows the contours of the earth rather than a man-made course, but his journey has been one of self-creation as much as self-discovery. Eliot Weinberger, in his excellent and useful introduction to The Name Encanyoned River, Eshleman's selected poems, describes his poetry and life as "a river that springs up in the arid wilderness of Indiana and flows toward a Utopic vision of personal and global wholeness; a river that is nearly all rapids and is flanked by canyon walls. Along the way one writes, paints, leaves one's mark on the walls: both an act of testimony for the community (this is where we are) and an imaginative leap to the other side." Because Eshleman's meander is complex, his poems have acquired a reputation for being difficult and even obscure. Their densely textured surfaces might lead one to place his work in the tradition of Ezra Pound's Cantos, though Eshleman's vision always leads back to self, not to history, as does Pound's.
In speaking of Eshleman's literary origins and practices, Hayden Carruth has written, with great accuracy,
His verbal practice, based on the isolated phrase, with many elisions and enjambments, a free cadence, strange juxtapositions, and extremes of diction, places him pretty squarely in our native Black Mountain tradition. Unlike some other Black Mountain poets, however, such as Robert Duncan, Denise Levertov or Robert Kelly, Eshleman aims for conceptual discrimination. Sometimes this leads to mere fussiness, sometimes to genuine analytical elegance. But always his tone is tough, involuted and dense with separate movements of feeling characteristically sustained over rather long passages.
One problem with locating Eshleman in the Black Mountain tradition, however, is that all Black Mountain theory leads to linguistics. When Olson bids us to go back to pre-Socratic times and relearn the possibilities of poetry, he really means to relearn the possibilities of poetic speech. But Eshleman is exploring Paleolithic drawings and cave paintings psychologically, not linguistically. His goal, as Weinberger says, is a Utopian personal and global vision. For Eshleman the personal (the psychological) is political. When the reader understands this, Eshleman's obsession with the sexual can be recognized by any feminist theorist and his convoluted language of ecstatic lyricism revealed as grappling constantly with the buried female, as in this excerpt from "Scorpion Hopscotch":
Unexpectedly this morning I grasped
my orgasm and held it for a moment in my hands,
outwardly a crystal ball—yet as I looked
I penetrated my own reflection and glimpsed
its marvelous inner workings, death
was happy, a gold fluid that streamed
through the crystal complexity of what I saw.
For Eshleman true maleness comes through the purity and intensity with which it longs for the female, as in "Scarlet Experiment":
The apple dangling from the lovely fingers of a branch is red
all the way through, its seeds
tiny beings carousing in Eve's rich heart.
The earth, as well as woman, menstruates—
the evidence is flowers, especially roses.
Against green or brown, they take on a rusty,
delicious tenor, scarlet experiments
in league with liquid blackness, or that imperfect
circle of pebbles a male octopus arranges on the ocean floor,
to invite one in heat inside such a circle
to mate motionless changing colors for hours.
Eshleman's work uses the double paradigm of rooting into the self for discovery of the primal male-female entity and of burrowing down into the earth. The latter is seen particularly as he explores Paleolithic caves containing the earliest visual art made by mankind so as to locate a vision of humanity that will not be war-death-patriarchal-nuclear/holocaust-bound. The theme of the coiled serpent, of the intestines, and of the phallus strangling the world is one that recurs often in Eshleman's work, as he sees clearly the troubles of a masculine, male-dominated civilization taking the hunter's and killer's power to rule the world.
From the very beginning of his meander into poetry, Eshleman has believed that it is important to be part of a global community. Not only does he read and translate poetry from several other languages, but he also has traveled extensively, participating generously in international conferences and events and offering hospitality to foreign poets both personally and for their work in Sulfur magazine. He has returned religiously, as a pilgrim, to the Dordogne, usually staying at the Cro-Magnon Hotel, the title of a collection of poetry from which these lines of "Keriescan, 1985" come:
the opened loaded
Neanderthal muscle, a return of
the repressed struggle against opacity
From there he explores the caves, looking for inspiration and new vision for his personal and global Utopia.