25 April 2010

Edward Dorn

[from Edward Dorn via Tom Clark in Jacket 16, “Poetry as a Difficult Labor,” November 1998]

The habit of considering personal expression or ‘lyric” as something that strives for compassion with all of the artifices which make up a poem, is in many ways a loathsome instrumentation that leads you into dishonesties and lies and pretenses that are damaging. It is damaging to the ability to absorb reality. In order to write a poem of any interest whatsoever, it should be beyond how one feels, which is largely a condition so freighted with lack of interest on anybody [else’s] part. You really have to educate yourself and the poem at the same time. That’s where it’s work, it’s labor.


  1. I appreciate the way this passage helps illuminate the Dorn poem "Hemlock" you recently posted (interestingly one of the most feeling of the Dorn poems I've read; he usually strikes me as taking the quintessentially outsider pose). The poem does indeed--on closer inspection--step away from verity to the emotions and events he experienced. He by and large throws away the details that have emotional resonance to him, playing with words to see what they might say and thereby trying to create a new feeling that stands outside of his narrow sense of loss brought on by memory.

    In a more generous mood, Dorn defined the work of the poet (referring here to Charles Olsen) thusly:

    "As [sounds] come to him he places them
    puts clothes upon them
    and gives them their place
    in their new explanation."

    Is that not, at core, compassion?

  2. Thanks so much for this, Carol--