Clayton Eshleman: The Occupied Life

East Timor is “stable.” This must mean that the Indonesian Army,
supplied by USA, is on a rampage.
The beheaded are calm. The sky is fluttering a Pinochet kite
whose stabilizing tail is the knotted entrails of thousands.
Dressed up as a caterpillar, I am contemplating Tenochtitlan.
My butterfly belongs to the state, so I remain larval,
something you may notice to
the left of the broccoli.
Horst Haack writes:

“Very strange. Your September 11 theory is shared now by even the most popular magazines like ‘Stern’ and “Spiegel’ and nobody seems to care or bother. Everyone expects the worst from Washington. If a paper reported that Bush Jr. as a new hobby was shooting Arab-terrorist prisoners on his ranch Sunday afternoon, readers would believe it—show the President holding a gun and everyone would take that for proof.”

Never has personal life here been at
a greater discrepancy with
the state of the union. Never has the use of God,
in my lifetime, been more bizarre,
has Presidential glossalalia needed
so much translation, or simple inversion of meaning.
Never, Poet Laureate Gluck, was your post more ridiculous.
Never was Blake’s praise of Los
–“He kept the divine vision in a time of trouble”—
more sage.

And what might “divine vision” mean today?
“The imagination spans beyond despair…”

not God but integrity to the precipice of the instant,
adherence to the otter as well as to
the subconscious ballcourt of the dead.

So I donned my wasp-nest headdress and apologized to Gaza—
outside my workroom window life at large still looks swell.
What hypnogogic power lurks in that “swell.”
Turn on the computer, the pain chart starts to zigzag,
like a rip in Kafka’s kidney, it swells into plump, pulpy wounds.
And yet—the ivy on the neighbor Emily’s brick has never been greener.
This is the Bush junta’s steepest hope:
that neighborhood serenity will drown out the sea of blood
pooling in our awareness.

27 May 2005

Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, in 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


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)


Antiphonal Swing: Selected Prose, 1962-1987 (McPherson, 1989)
Novices: A Study of Poetic Apprenticeship (Arundel, 1989)
Companion Spider (Wesleyan, 2002)


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)

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