Clark Coolidge's cave art
Face an inch from the earth, fingers
ground down clenched into it.
Crawling, try to push the
earth off me so I can stand
away from it.
— Clark Coolidge and Philip Guston, Baffling Means
the words from home for caves.
— Clark Coolidge, Mine: The One That Enters the Stories
Part I. The mouth of the cave
The Cave, The Crystal Text, A Geology, Keys to the Caverns, Mine: The One That Enters the Stories, Quartz Hearts, Smithsonian Depositions, Solution Passage: Even a brief survey of the titles of Clark Coolidge’s poetry collections reveals a sustained engagement with geological motifs, among which caves take pride of place. Extending this survey to individual poems, one finds similar themes recurring, for example, in “The Death of Floyd Collins,” “Machinations Calcite,” and “Up the Escarpment” from Coolidge’s first book, Flag Flutter & U.S. Electric (Lines / Aram Saroyan, 1966), in “The Caves” and “A Geology” from the recently published A Book Beginning What and Ending Away (Fence Books, 2013), or in “Bowling for Agates” and “Down at Granny’s Cave” from 88 Sonnets (Fence Books, 2012).
While Coolidge’s work is more commonly read in the context of his musical practice or his connections to the visual arts, geological influences on the poetry have hardly gone unexamined. Coolidge himself frequently establishes this link, perhaps most notably in his 1978 lecture, “Arrangement.” In “Arrangement,” Coolidge tells of how he majored in geology for two years in college before becoming disenchanted with the way it “was changing from being a descriptive science to a real high-toned mathematical, geophysical, super-laboratory stress-and-strain type science.” Throughout the talk, Coolidge circles around the geological theme, discussing his early caving experiences at one point, and at another, recalling how Aram Saroyan once insightfully and somewhat erroneously characterized Coolidge’s poems as “cliffs of rock.” The story will be familiar to some, but it’s worth quoting again in this context. As Coolidge explains, Saroyan’s reading was predicated on “a tremendous misconception” because:
what he thought of it as, is that you look at the rock as just one thing. It’s a cliff, okay? You go do something else. The way I look at it, because I’ve had geological interests and some training, is that geologists read the rocks. They can read the layers … and sometimes there are very complicated arrangements of strata and faults and things, and they can read what came first even though it’s all messed up. So when Aram said “Your works are like cliffs of rock,” I thought, yeah, that’s right. They have that particular solid separate arrangement aspect and I read them, and I want people to read them.
Here, as elsewhere, Coolidge articulates a relationship between poetry and geophysical materials — as between poetics (the study of poetry) and geology (the study of earth) — that encompasses and exceeds both simile and metaphor. Not only do his poems share the quality of “solid separate arrangement” found in geophysical terrain and earth strata, but Coolidge also posits that both poem and terrain are legible or signifying structures. Poetry and cliffs are, in a sense, comparative literatures, which is why Coolidge’s background in geology makes him (vis-à-vis Saroyan) the better reader.
This radical yoking of poetics and geology, words and rocks, poems and caves, permeates Coolidge’s writing and thought. In Smithsonian Depositions, Coolidge appropriates and recasts Robert Smithson’s meditations on the homology of language and the geophysical from his 1968 art essay “A Sedimentation of the Mind,” writing: “Words and rocks contain a language that follows a syntax of splits and ruptures. Look at any word long enough and you will see it open up into a series of faults, into a terrain of particles each containing its own void.” To be clear, it’s not simply that words are like rocks — for example, insofar as one could transfer properties of earth, such as hardness, brittleness, or dryness, etc., metaphorically to words. Rather, words and rocks relate on a structural level, and that structure is their common language. As Coolidge-via-Smithson puts it, both words and rocks contain (or conduct) a language; they are subject to “a syntax,” which is what makes an interrogative out of a group of words, or karst terrain out of limestone.
In “Arrangement,” Coolidge implicitly extends the parallelism between words and rocks to the activities of caving and writing. “In a cave,” he explains, “… [t]he rock has been cut by water, which has followed the line of least resistance, of softest rock. Layers of water have sunk down. There are levels. You’re following the result of a natural process. You go where it goes” (153). While Coolidge is strictly speaking of caving here, an implicit analogy links this anecdote to the the poem as a kind of “solution passage,” a form following “the line of least resistance” and carving its way through the language, as the poet, a sort of language-caver, wends his way through passages, dropping through semantic and structural “levels,” following sound and syntax, “[f]ace an inch from the earth, fingers / ground down clenched into it.”
Given the well-established context, it shouldn’t come as a great surprise to learn that Coolidge’s speleophilia runs deep. Books like The Cave give glimpses of his technical training and expertise in caving, while lectures like “Arrangement” shed further light on his lifelong interest in geology and caves. (It is in “Arrangement,” for example, that Coolidge calls attention to his membership in the National Speleological Society.) And yet, despite his frequent recurrence to the subject, the extent of Coolidge’s involvement in caving has never been fully mapped.
If one were, however, to become curious about Coolidge’s caving exploits and his professional affiliation with the National Speleological Society (NSS) — “a group that keeps news between cavers moving, and exchange of maps and equipment and so on” — it wouldn’t take long to turn up something noteworthy: in particular, one might happen upon a small but unexpected parallel engagement in writing, as I did. Intrigued by the frequent allusions to caving in his poetry and lectures, and thinking I might plumb the depths of Coolidge’s involvement in this eccentric, paraprofessional sporting activity, I visited the NSS website and performed a site-wide search for “Clark Coolidge.” Sure enough, the search returned two items, both from an NSS publication called The Northeastern Caver: the first, an interview with Coolidge by editor-in-chief Chuck Porter, from December 2000; and the other, an article, “Recalling Knox Cave in the 50’s,” from May 1974.
Needless to say, The Northeastern Caver is not a title widely held in libraries. This quarterly newsletter, the official publication of the Northeastern Regional Organization (NRO) of the NSS, has been in continuous publication since 1969 and serves to connect Northeast caving communities through the exchange of caving information and culture. (The website copy reads: “THE NORTHEASTERN CAVER is the quarterly newsletter of the NRO, with the latest news on Northeastern caving developments. Issues run around thirty-four pages and are crammed full of articles on new and old cave discoveries, equipment and techniques, meetings and events, cave access details, maps, photos, cartoons and more.”) Though the newsletterproves difficult to find in local libraries, fortunately, editor Chuck Porter is quick to respond to Caver-related inquiries.
It was Porter who had interviewed Coolidge for the December 2000 issue of The Caver, and through our correspondence, I learned that in some circles Coolidge is known not for his poetry but for his low NSS number. Porter explained that he had never met Coolidge in person but had conducted the interview by mail. His interest in Coolidge stemmed from the fact that “he seemed to be an old-time caver, based on his low NSS number.” Porter added: “I am surprised to learn that he is a noted poet. I checked a few of his poems, and they are indeed filled with cave references. Something that gets in one’s blood,” he knowingly surmised, “as I’ve been caving since 1958.” In the course of our email exchange, Porter graciously sent me scans of the interview and Coolidge’s earlier article. Both were fascinating documents but particularly impressive was the 1974 article “Recalling Knox Cave in the 50’s,” which included Coolidge’s Knox Cave “sketch-map” from June 1956 (above).
Partly based on an old “mimeo-ed map” Coolidge had obtained from D. C. Robinson, the owner of Knox Cave (“an amazing old guy” who “loved to tell long rambling tales of early NY caving to anyone who’d listen”), Coolidge’s map is almost elegant: his line is sure, the lettering neat, and for a non-scientific map it is remarkably detailed. Coolidge fills the map with descriptive information relating to different cave formations (e.g. “Rimstone Pool,” “Iron-Stained Formations in Ceiling,” “Descending Crawl Blocked by Breakdown”) and vernacular names for various physical features, like “Salamander Crevice,” “Skeleton Passage,” “Fallen Giant,” and “Bat Row.” Dated to June, 1956, Coolidge’s “Sketch-Map” precedes his earliest published writings by nearly a decade and even antedates the period he identifies with his beginnings as a writer, in “Fall 1958–Summer 1959,” when he “began to scribble for [him]self.” Though it is written upon, the sketch-map is not exactly writing. The map is not yet a poem, but it points the way.
In a short essay in Stations #5, a special issue devoted to the poetry of Clark Coolidge, Charles Bernstein writes that “Coolidge’s poetry is ‘part art part limestone’” and that “the cave that recurs in his work, particularly in THE MAINTAINS, is the ‘word mine’ of language.” In “Coolidgean Ex-cavations,” Paul Stephens similarly considers the caves that recur throughout Coolidge’s oeuvre in terms of language: specifically, he sees them as sites “where language is embodied and made material.” As Stephens writes, “the Coolidgean cave is typically figured as a passageway … a site of communication, a place of writing … The cave is radically linguistic, a world of impacted grammar, of non-sequiturs.”
If the cave functions as a figure for language and, more particularly, for writing (the cave as a kind of Ur-site of inscription — of glyphs and drawings, like those found in the Chauvet and Lascaux caves in France), Lytle Shaw contends that Coolidge’s poetry also at times enfolds the cave as a figure, figuring itself as cave through a kind of radical mimesis. Focusing on Coolidge and Bernadette Mayer’s collaborative long poem, The Cave, Shaw argues that
Coolidge and Mayer use the problem of describing a cave to construct a dialogic text that progressively circles back on its own incomplete or inadequate descriptive episodes, treating these as a datum or ground for a series of improvisations and transformations that eventually turns the book itself, in its various layers, into a textual cave.
Putting down travelogue-narrative deposits, epistolary and dialogic fragments along with sedimentations of Wittgenstein, Leibniz, Beckett, Melville, and Hawthorne — passing from the “Cave of Metonymy” to “Purgatory Again,” to the “Paradise of the Last Passage” — the poem continuously circles in on itself, “getting lost off the main passage,” unable to come to any point of closure, “like living in a dictionary.”
The radical imbrication of cave and language emerges in and through Coolidge’s poetics in various “regions” of the poetry, among which I would include: naming, lore, specialist language, descriptive technique, citation, and punning. The first three are related concepts, and I address them as a group; citation and punning are then reviewed, before I close with an exploration of descriptive technique as a point of convergence between caving and writing. Ultimately, I want to suggest that this early, lost document — the sketch-map of Knox Cave and the article in which it was found — provide the “Keys to the Caverns” of Coolidge’s poetics. In the map and in “Remembering Knox Cave in the 50’s,” the broad contours of Coolidge’s poetics have been sketched and many basic features of fifty years of writing to follow recorded in cartographic shorthand.
Part II. A “tite crawl”
In a letter to Paul Metcalf published in Stations #5, Coolidge describes the impetus for a recently written poem, In Virginia, which consists of a series of sentences lifted from the NSS publication, Caves of Virginia. As Coolidge explains:
It struck me that cavers (as any humans closely involved in a particular activity) have a special use of vocabulary & syntax. Thus, In Virginia as a possible presentation of that structure to those (writers I guess I’m thinking of particularly) who wouldn’t come into contact with it otherwise. America, a multi-dimensional grid overlay of many special languages, etc.
A language and culture grow up around caving; for Coolidge, it is already a poetics. The language is technical — there are geophysical formations like chimneys, rimstone pools, and gypsum flowers, and equipment like carbide lamps and pitons — but there’s also a demotic, colloquial language that builds around caves and caving (as evidenced in the names of caves, e.g. “Knox Cave” or “Mammoth Cave,” and the names of cave features, such as “Bat Row” or “Dumbbell Room” on the sketch-map above). Unlike the “hard” geophysical sciences Coolidge abandoned in school, speleology is still a descriptive science dependent on the fieldworker. The line between hobbyist and scientific cave explorer is porous; a spelunker might describe the “field” as shot through with fissures, runnels, and grikes.
In “Recalling Knox Cave in the 50’s,” Coolidge remarks that the “Names for rooms & passages” found on his sketch-map “are those in use at the time” (65). This is not, however, strictly true, as the map shows that Coolidge has taken the liberty of giving the name “Negley’s Lost Passage” to a truncated passage — “a continuation of the joint north of the Alabaster Room” that “soon pinched out in a clay fill obviously never disturbed in human history” (64). Negley, an old time caver who could be found “hanging around” the roller-skating rink on Robinson’s property was, as Coolidge recalled, “a small furtive man who liked to insinuate that he had found passages [in Knox Cave] unknown to other men.” His eponymous passage, which supposedly led to a spot where a person could “lie down … directly under the road and smoke cigarettes and listen to the cars go by,” was a piece of cave lore that Coolidge and his friends discredited, so much so that “even the barest mention of ‘Negley’s Lost Passage’” was “enough to bring [on] sardonic smiles, if not outright pandemonium laughter” (64). While most of the features on the Knox Cave sketch-map are likely the common names in use circa 1956, Coolidge’s participation in caving culture entailed his contribution to the stock of names and lore.
To a certain extent, exaggerated tales are the routine fare exchanged among cavers. Coolidge relates with some fondness how D. C. Robinson (or “Robbie,” as they called him) “told us of huge ‘lost’ rooms ‘just off the main cave’ big enough that ‘you could drive a hay wagon through ’em standing on top of the load with a pitchfork at arm’s length and still not touch the walls or ceiling.’” Rather than deriding such overstatements, Coolidge exclaims: “Robbie really had the caving spirit!” (62). In a sense, then, Coolidge’s commemoration is the perfect rejoinder to Negley’s yarn, as both only add to the cultural store belonging to cavers.
If the language of caves consists of compounded strata of vernacular, mythological, and specialist sociolects, for Coolidge, caves and language touch like the two sides of a leaf of paper (or, more aptly, like the two sides of a layer of sheet silicate) through punning and other kinds of associative sound-play. In a remarkable passage from Smithsonian Depositions, Coolidge performs the “linguistic turn” on a series of mineral substances, so that the names of minerals begin to dissolve into phrases in a manner that highlights the poetics of scientific naming and the material-sonic properties of words: “Biotite peels from Biot’s sheets … Garnet eats a granular pome ... Olivine shapes an olive suffix ... Prase holds mastery of the Greek leek ... Quartz, the German unknown ... Tourmaline’s, to the Sinhalese, both Carnelian and a suffix ... And Zircon, a silicate of jargon.” This euphonious “riffing” on minerals also reminds us that the cave is not only a “primal” site of writing but is also an exceptional acoustic space, wherein the contours of speech are amplified and deformed by echo, and where punning and wordplay may even emerge as effects of the landscape.
As acoustic spaces, caves also have notable musical properties. From the Gitano musicians and dancers who invented Flamenco in their Andalusian cave-homes to “The Stalacpipe Organ” in the Luray Caverns in Virginia, where Coolidge visited his first cave at age nine, caves function as both musical venue and instrument. Thus, Coolidge writes in The Cave: “Speleothems sing the best songs.” As acoustic space, writing surface, and painting support; as a cultural space constituted by certain activities and practices like exploration, surveying and abiding by NSS regulations, as well as circulating stories, news, and mythology; and as an activity around which a “special vocabulary & syntax” grows, it is arguably caves that constitute the binding thread in Coolidge’s diverse poetic influences.
One place where this convergence is most evident is in the “Notes” section of Coolidge’s book-length poem Quartz Hearts (This Press, 1978). Here, Coolidge explains that an account of “the work’s procession would note the following order of regions,” among which he includes: a number of paintings, writings, and musical pieces (scores and recordings) by famous artists; the mediation of major historical events (“Picasso dead” and “Watergate TV”); the personal influence of his four-year-old daughter; a book on caves in the Ozarks and Black Hills; and a list of caves (and other notable geological features) visited throughout the US, including “Lehman Caves, Arches Utah, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Onondaga Cave, Mammoth Cave, Grapevine Cave; [and] Luray Caverns.” In this leveling of citation, caves and the natural landscape assume a textual position, sandwiched between Hawthorne’s American Notebooks and news of Picasso’s death. Just as punning and wordplay enact a collapse of distance between caves as geophysical and linguistic/discursive sites, citational practices in Coolidge’s poems (not just in Quartz Hearts, but also in The Cave, Smithsonian Depositions, and A Book Beginning What, to a few name others) complicate categorical distinctions between language, media, and terrain — as well as between discrete entities or “things,” on the one hand, and processes and events on the other. Coolidge forges a speleological poetics (a speleopoiesis) through idiosyncratic citational practices, punning, and other forms of associative wordplay, through the mixed use of vernacular and specialized (technical) idioms, and through the circulation of folklore; but it is in the cultivation of descriptive technique that poetry and caving draw closest together.
Part III. Efflux and resurgence
The cave has a “flow,” its passages point directions, and the caver follows along bodily: “Tunnel pointing ahead seems to grab your head & shoot you further in”; “You’re following the result of a natural process. You go where it goes.” Traveling through a cave is a descriptive process — both in terms of the noticing and notating that gets done and in terms of the physical procession that inscribes a path through the cave. In each case, description is part of a responsive engagement with an environment: the cave leads; the caver answers. Exploring through touch, using the body as an instrument to assess the spatial contours of the cave — its directions, distances, breadths, and depths — the caver maneuvers, measures, translates, and negotiates his surroundings. There is “no light, not a photon, without artificials,” so the cave initiates the caver into a feeling sight: “Caves are lighthouses for the blind.”
The cave has a rhythm and a tempo: some caves are defined by “tight passages” and “long crawls,” some are damp, dank, and cold, some are cut wide through “golden limestone,” and some “pinch out” in muddy clay fills. Coolidge’s map of Knox Cave reflects the tempo of the cave, which reads like a poet’s narrative — fragmented, meandering, and inexactly patterned.
Caves have an impetus, a momentum. The caver follows this momentum — the cave’s discursus or discourse. As in speaking, which is a kind of movement in language, the caver is conducted through the cave’s prosody. The cave’s prose, however, is never prosaic because the cave is polysemous and, at the very least, diglossic. “Responsible cavers,” reads the NSS’s Guide to Responsible Caving, “know that every cave is two caves — the one you see entering and the one you see leaving.” The caver is instructed to leave a small cairn to mark the way, especially at forking passages and intersections, so as not to become lost on the return journey. In the cave, description must be continuous, not retrospective, as in recollection; “seeing” and “saying” have to happen simultaneously, as it is a kind of recording that facilitates and furthers exploration. In other words, to describe the cave is to inscribe it. Description becomes a technique for making a way or a course. It is a method of composing that steers between mimesis and diegesis, so that observation-oriented sensation folds forward immediately into poetic activity: as a map unfolds, through time, into a poetic terrain. “In the cave. No. In the room the lights brightened as the pages turned.”
1. Floyd Collins was a famous early-twentieth-century cave explorer who tragically died as a result of a caving accident in Sand Cave (Kentucky) in 1925. As D. S. Lawson notes in his review of A Book Beginning What and Ending Away, Collins’s entrapment in 1925 was one of the first “mass media” events of thetwentieth century, as the weeks-long rescue attempt was broadcast over nationwide radio. Lawson contends that A Book Beginning What opens with the phenomenon of “journalism as mass spectacle” that would “set a paradigm for the coverage of such later events as the Lindbergh baby kidnapping, the Watergate Senate committee hearings, and even 9/11” (np). D. S. Lawson, “In Review: A Book Beginning What and Ending Away by Clark Coolidge.” The Volta, July 1, 2014.
2. As Kit Robinson explains in his afterword to A Book Beginning What and Ending Away, the “longprose” is “composed of 20–30 page sections … arranged in groups of four,” wherein the first section is organized around a particular “subject area,” the second section constitutes a “transition” to the third section, which relates to an “author,” and the fourth section synthesizes the preceding three parts (598). (See: Kit Robinson, “Clark Coolidge, October 15–21, 1979,” in A Book Beginning What and Ending Away [Albany, NY: Fence Books, 2012], 591–599.) Coolidge corroborates Robinson’s account of his method of composition in an interview with John Melillo from 2013 (6). (See: “Operating within the Irreducible: An Interview with Clark Coolidge,” by John Melillo, Poetry Project Newsletter 234 (February/March 2013), 6–11.) One might note the vaguely fugal structure of the longprose work; Coolidge has experimented with fugal form before, most notably in Polaroid.
6. “Karst is a term applied to terrain with distinctive landforms and underground drainage systems that form through the greater solubility in water of certain rock types, particularly limestone. Karst landscapes are sculpted largely by solution, other rock types largely by mechanical erosion. The word ‘karst’ has its origins in pre-Indo-European languages, from kar, meaning ‘rock’” (M. J. Simms, “Sedimentary Processes: Karst and Paleokarst,” in Encyclopedia of Geology, eds. Richard C. Selley, Robin Cocks, and Ian Plimer [Academic Press, 2005], 678–87). Karst terrain is highly generative of caves, which are formed by “solution passages” carving through the soluble rock. Coolidge titles a section of The Cave (his collaborative book with Bernadette Mayer) “KARSTARTS,” which can be read as “karst arts” with a pun on “car starts.” “Karst arts” would seem to refer to the book, as an artwork growing out of a trip to a karst terrain cave, Eldon’s Cave, but it might also refer to the cave or the karst terrain itself, which could be understood as a kind of geological artwork. On this particular pun, see also Lytle Shaw, Fieldworks: From Place to Site in Postwar Poetics (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2014), 334–35, endnote 64.
9. WorldCat shows copies in three libraries only: at SUNY Cobleskill, SUNY Albany, and the library at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. I visited the AMNH Library to consult their collection, but it was incomplete, and they were missing the May 1974 issue (Vol. 5, Issue 5) of the Caver.
10. Since Coolidge joined the NSS in 1949 (see below), presumably he has been a Northeastern Caver subscriber for its entire run. As Coolidge reports, “The Northeastern Caver as actual newsletter is about to vanish, replaced by an on-line-only deal. I’ll miss it.” (letter to the author, September 2, 2015).
11. As Coolidge relates in his interview, “I was introduced to the NSS by Lydia Neubuck at Adirondack Natural Stone Bridge and Caverns, Pottersville, NY. She recommended me for an Associate membership when I was 10 years old, which is why I have such a low [NSS] number (1294).” “The Northeastern Caver Interviews Clark Coolidge, NSS 1294,” The Northeastern Caver 31, no.4 (December 2000): 136.
19. Paul Stephens, “Coolidgean Ex-Cavations: Landscape, Memory, and Masculinity in the 1970s Poetry of Clark Coolidge,” ThoughtMesh.
21. Drawings and paintings in the Lascaux cave were discovered in 1940 and are dated to circa 15,000 BCE. Those discovered in the Chauvet cave in 1994 have been dated to circa 30,000 BCE. See: Jean Clottes, “Chauvet Cave (ca. 30,000 B.C.),” in Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000), last modified October 2002; and Laura Anne Tedesco, “Lascaux (ca. 15,000 B.C.),” in Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, last modified October 2000.
24. Caves of Virginia is a 761-page volume documenting the results of the Virginia Cave Survey, an official NSS project directed by Henry H. Douglas and conducted between 1954 and 1965. Caves of Virginia published descriptions of all caves known to exist in the state of Virginia at that time. Alan Davies reports that “Coolidge’s method of writing IN VIRGINIA” consisted of “select[ing] the sentence he most like[d] of those containing the cave’s name” from each of the 1760 survey reports in Caves of Virginia (Davies, “From the Poetry Project Newsletter,” in Stations #5, 4). An excerpt of this poem was published in William Corbett’s short-lived mimeo magazine, The Boston Eagle, no. 3 (November 1974).
26. From the Greek prasios, meaning “leek-green,” and prason, meaning “leek.” (“prase, n.” New Oxford American Dictionary, 3rd ed., eds. Angus Stevenson and Christine Lindberg [New York: Oxford University Press, 2010]).
28. In literature, the echo-device exploits an ambiguity between sound (as natural) and language (as artificial), so that echo mimics language through partial, altered re-soundings of human speech. Elbridge Colby’s The Echo-Device in Literature (The New York Public Library, 1920) provides a broad survey of the use of echo in poetry and plays in English and other languages (Italian, French, German, Greek and Latin) through the nineteenth century. John Hollander’s The Figure of Echo: A Mode of Allusion in Milton and After (University of California Berkley Press, 1981) analyzes the use of echo, primarily in English literature, as a rhetorical figure.
30. Coolidge, The Cave, 24. A speleothem is a cave formation that results from mineral deposits. Stalagmites and stalactites are two kinds of speleothems. As Coolidge relates in “Arrangement,” the Stalacpipe Organ in the Luray Caverns consists of a series of “little electric hammers” set up next to various stalactites and connected to an organ console (152).
31. Coolidge’s references to the culture of caving frequently include nods to a handful of prominent cave explorers, including Bill Austin, Jim Dyer, and, most notably, Floyd Collins. In his 2000 interview with The Northeastern Caver, Coolidge relates his experiences caving with “Bill Austin himself” and “Jim Dyer himself,” emphasizing the near-legendary status of these figures (136). Floyd Collins, on the other hand, reaches mythological proportions in Coolidge’s work, appearing on the cover of Coolidge’s Own Face (as a kind of persona or red herring for the poet’s “own face”), and in numerous poems, perhaps most notably in The Cave, where “Floyd Collins” and “Samuel Beckett” engage in a dialogue on caving and writing, and in A Book Beginning What and Ending Away, where the story of Collins’s entrapment in Sand Cave, Kentucky commands the focus of the book’s first chapter, “The Caves.”
33. For example, Coolidge and Mayer’s The Cave might be read as a work of “process art,” as the text unfolds from an initial site-specific investigation and develops through subsequent correspondence between the authors. Lytle Shaw advances a reading of The Cave in the context of the site-specific work of Robert Smithson in Fieldworks (226–30). Tom Orange gives the extended context for Mayer and Coolidge’s collaboration and similarly connects The Cave to Coolidge’s interest in Smithson’s work in “Clark Coolidge in Context: A New American Poetry 1962–1978” (PhD thesis,University of Western Ontario, 2007), 244–48.
35. From The Cave: “Passage totally in marble now, banded in whorls of blue/black on white. A few dripstone formations, dark tan to yellowish flowstone & a few nub stalactites, kinda worn & hand-rubbed-looking, dropping from narrow alcoves above” (5).