The time-presence prescience of Eleni Sikelianos's Pindar

'Palmier glorieux,' painting by Isabelle Pelissier.

An eloquent and intricate mythmaking propels the fame-seeking in the oh-so-precious collection from the classical world, full and rich in four books, of Victory Odes (sometimes known from the Greek as Epinikia) assigned to the Greek poet Pindar. Coming down to us from the fifth century BCE, this trove of wildly appealing poetry is self-celebrated in Pindar’s own person and, whether or not on cue, has been preserved for the modern reader more substantially than some other exemplars of pre-Hellenistic lyric.

From our world of today, we have an outstanding example of mythopoetics in Eleni Sikelianos’s The California Poem. What is carried down to us in Sikelianos’s book-length poem, moreover, represents a still greater span of time if considered, as the self-named and equally self-realizing poet does, in terms of geologic time (e.g., “Scattered across Precambrian rock …”).[1] Yet this stretching out into the natural world does not prevent her from continuing “Eleni” in her forward self-directing: “Listen: who’s creating the world / here, Eleni or opossums?” (58).

What Eleni Sikelianos lets into her polytropical, megaprotological study of California is both revealing and poetic. Time extended informs the reach of this poem more than as simple horizon and differently from a frame set in place to indicate parameters. Instead, Eleni’s expansions — and confessions and compressions and Cartesian dips — of thoughts of time, history, home, natural history, and landscape combine into an instituting principle to which the poet securely and boldly holds. The quality of her aim lies, in other words, in her very setting forth. And the setting forth itself, even before the many iterations to come, is of great importance. As Eleni begins — transparently having a problem doing so — it is a dream time, the special time of creation myths cornered in illo tempore by specialists in myth,[2] that radiates first place and first form:

I want to tell you about the dream. The California is a paradise lake with colorful animals dream.
The when I go back to my homeland California is a paradise I am happy for you dream

We were going ever so through the dusty eucalyptus the dusty eucalyptus & shadow road in the
“opposite of blindness” & “relinquished speech” (12)

Greek scholars are foremost in recognizing creation and recreation, initiating and reinitiating, as the proper subjects of mythical transformations.[3] This poet and California her subject undergo a similar retracing. Yet their dream will prove not to pleasure the paradisal state (rarely enjoyed by Greek heroes themselves, it would seem). For Eleni, the mythic invention of all renewing and all healing will not be adequate to a different force she recognizes, an origin if she wants it to be, namely the “hedon eden” that she confers “with my eyes closed” on those heady glories that rush into her spectacular terrain (16). Or will it, this creation-myth status, prove good as gold?

In one of the Sicilian odes Pindar has a golden lyre to go along with his lordly lyre in the important lines quoted below from another Sicilian ode. Maybe Eleni harbors similar prognostications. In any event, she hits the surf enthusiastically and with great blush and foam and fervor in her scurrying, smoothly and not smoothly, while the initial self-renewing vision pre-times many initiations to come. Every feeling of the singing of her California is already guarded, every projection already foreshadowing the squandered and diminishing, the searched and remembered, institutions of light and declamations of light that will reflect and illumine in a historicizing wave-trend showing itself, despite the flux and despite the glamour, to be compromised diversely within the new and the near of her turning and returning.

Eleni’s poem is, to be precise about it, diminished at the outset. By comparison to “Αριστον μεν υδωρ,”[4] “water is best,” so famously revered as the magno-quirky introductory assertion of Pindar and of the Victory Odes, and so full of promise of fecundity and healing, much of California enjoys, among many things good and bad, water in its scarcity. Hence the burden of “the dusty eucalyptus the dusty eucalyptus,” not to mention Death and heaps of sand and sand dollars and all manner of “sandbox” uncoverings (“[a]ll that happened in the history books … a little sandbox with a bone-tool …” [42]) and the “world mathematically” understood as “curl of thirstling sound” (100).

But it is not from these aspects alone that Eleni’s means of retrospection outscore and outpartch those origins Pindaric and beyond, however brilliantly they may beam. It is not only the urge and the hope, though they too connect wildly, extensively. It is the state of California seeming to be in a ton of trouble like no other, in a pinch unparalleled in its being hard to grip or even track; for California permits a lengthy attention to history, has come into its being through a far-flung and scattered evolution that, though truly meriting its mythopoetic allure, hotly complicates the poet’s range of choices. California, her the poet’s California — what subject, what panorama, what sensation — effectuates a lengthy inundation of past forwarded to present whose conditions unsettle and then challenge the possibilities for a personal approach to writing.

Writing California is, in short, writing large in a hazardous and disparately bordered field. By contrast, the variations of Pindar are performed from time to time as a kind of service to city-states finding themselves at various stages of still-emerging and still-threatened wealth and grandeur. Professional poet and victory-party impresario are one important side to Pindar’s own mythic dimensions and pretensions. Large but not so overwhelming, in the same breath they surprise and startle in word and metaphor and presence; at the same time they are billed wisely and choreographed not only viscerally but rigorously too.

With some differences, then, but similarly poised atop deep cultural foundations, the poems of Pindar and The California Poem devote their shining projections to the spirit of public poetry. The respective charges of The California Poem ignite a winning and, for a time, easy pursuit of its expansive goals, naming its prizes in vaster and yet ever more precise measure. Of generous length but of a length suited to public occasions, Pindar’s poems do not serve as all-encompassing models for Sikelianos’s project. Pindar frames his historiographies, his typologies, in song and dance and display: all-out revelry, in short, or “κωμος” (Olympian 4, Olympian 6, and Olympian 8). The purpose of the odes thus sets a limiting condition (for us), framing them to be highly enjoyable but marking a jumping off point to something bigger from Sikelianos’s poem while she conceives her own welcoming delights. This much is true, that a festive spirit is not missing from either poet’s stating of their states. By the same token, moreover, a pointed reference to Pindar (“angel but Love but when I laugh the brontosaurus / laughs with me // And just as internal summer shall heal or hinder Pindar” [32]), and repeated turns on the famous opening to the second Victory Ode from the collection (Olympian 2), key an invitation — by door, by window, by sacred portal — to crucial elements of the historical unfolding that we find so splendidly aspiring to the finish and scope of the poem known as, as it becomes, and finds its tonalities in, “California.” To inquire into Sikelianos’s conception of the famous Pindar is to understand more fully the poet’s own flair for inquiry. And it may illumine even more, this train of expressions from that Greek-speaking, that myth-inducing world.

Where shall we begin? Indeed that is what Pindar himself asks:

Αναξιφορμιγγες υμνοι,
τινα θεον, τιν’ ηρωα, τινα δ’ ανδρα κελαδησομεν;
(Olympian 2, ll. 1–2)[5]

The Victory Odes of Pindar confer the values of victory on athlete, crew, and benefactor. They are, above all, instituting forms of happiness. They create the myths, and they create the greatness, both of which they receive gratefully and are proud. Take it as mythico-monumental. They endorse in the very same instituting action the patterns that more than anything else confer these values. The “what … what … what” pattern of the second line blazes chiefly, and most famously, among these poetic discoveries of Pindar’s; and it is this phrasing, of course using the English “what” where Pindar repeats the word “τινα” (in the accusative case), that provides the repeated refrain that ties Eleni’s poem in with the ancient model.

Before showing the pattern in my English version, it should prove helpful to note how Pindar’s meter is widely variable. The poet achieves his aura of splendor and intricate charm through what might be dubbed the “poikilos” effect. One of the words Pindar uses to reflect upon his activities and their extension, ποικιλος means “many-colored” as an effect of embroidery. The partial synonym δαιδαλος is based on knowing and can mean “curiously wrought” and also “dazzling,” to my liking for the Pindaric context. The two occur together in Olympian 1 in association with μυθοι or “tales” or “speeches,” the Greek word that fills in obviously as the basis for the concept of “myth,” although here the entire phrase is pejorative. Thus, as the poet uses the terms, “poikilos” and “daidalos” (the latter used twice in verb forms in Olympian 1 and once in Olympian 2 and connected for us obviously with the well-known Daedalus) may allude to the astonishing flexibility of choice wherein Pindar’s poetics benefit (in part) from the complex system of “choral” meters that is the pride and joy of ancient Greek poetry. By “choral” we mean a general kind of meter or rhythm and in turn think of the dance practice that contributes, with its breathtaking combinations, to what is decidedly thrilling about Pindar’s poetry.[6] Accordingly, my version of these lines to which Sikelianos alludes again and again aims at this rhythmic exuberance. Double choriambs, the “choriamb” being the basic and standard step in Greek “choral” lyric, are hinted at (“[what strutting he]ro” and “[hero what mere] mortal”; brackets inserted to indicate the choriambic echoes), and the stresses and pauses of the second half of the line match the swift lilt of the finishing cretics in the Greek:

Songs of praise and devotion of the championing lyre,
what god what strutting hero what mere mortal shall we celebrate?

Pindar’s second line (see above) is parsed by the editor Alexander Turyn as a dochmiac followed by three cretics. In other words, it exemplifies, as does this particular ode (Olympian 2) generally, a metrical system of individual units being patched together to form medium-length and hypermetrical lines of distinct rhythmic freedom. It is exciting, and the dochmiac is the most werewolfianly wild and the most irregular unit in Greek meter, on top of which the parsing required in this instance sports an option to start either with a short syllable followed by a long syllable (Greek meter being based on a notion of syllable length) or by resolving the long into two shorts and thereby creating a run of three short syllables right at the beginning. Moreover, whereas the next two units are the simple cretic having the form long-short-long (Creeley’s “gotta go” in stress accents), once again the second long is resolved into two shorts as more of these triple-short-syllable actions become part of the scansion, in fact two more instances of this running — all making for wonderful speed and thrill, and even enhancing the majesty of the hypermetrical line.

Among the modern languages, English is well suited to metrical displays of the kind found in Pindar’s Victory Odes. In English, an extensive vocabulary, every different kind of word formation, every different kind of word accent, and the grammar of non-inflected word-end formations together realize an astonishing verbal versatility, along with every possible openness to rhythmic specialty. There are extra wrinkles in ancient Greek metrics, but contemporary Americans can surely do the sparkling ancient formations justice when they feel them and swing to them and syncopate with them.

Blessed, then, with proliferating options, Sikelianos accommodates Pindar’s opulent metrics by treating of an edge, a literary sweep and soar, a flamboyant (even) manner and personality that The California Poem discovers. As noted, the dream begins as a rush to spectacular vision. It would indeed seem that the outpouring is spectacular. Yet the images are thick and glommable and polluted — one way of putting it. It nevertheless is spectacular, if for no other reason than by virtue of these energetic metrics recalling, by feel and to some degree systematically, the style of Pindar, now imposed as a rhythm that could aptly be named earth-shaking. Style and rhythm enable the poet, by design, to involve the mythmaking that is Pindar’s.

Thus in effect, and by its action and movement, the writing reassembles what institutes all the feeling of Sikelianos’s effort to model and refashion a new poem, a really creative poem. Strutting her own brand of confidence, she appeals in her rhythms to that ancient world where shimmering confidence naturally harmonizes and brashly composes the melody of its myths for the celebratory occasion. Here is how Eleni celebrates, and truthfully what sort of world it is to be celebrating:

The dental imprint of California
is gravelly, epileptic, spasm
of a sea-borne bungled broken Coastal Range of ridges & spurs with localized names

parking lots littered of glittering dead dented cadillacs

scum-fringed greenfingered gully muck silent in its ditch by
oak of tentacular brow & birds
shoot up quilling like grapeshot

my trailer park’s in the shady ambrosial arroyo of nothing native
stands of embryonic eucaplyptic bluegums frilling on the ridge &
tractor dust like a dress for us
Everybody’s halfcracked with halfteeth missing and ideas of almost-functioning

shipping & receiving depts. near the train tracks collide, hillsides
scrubbed in wild brighting mustard

unknown modes of road wind back the black hot gila monster tarmac beading up
          into ripped hills

pinioned slats & sacks stacked up against
mudslides, the night-

boxed lemons loaded into truck-backs in the dark by brown bodiless hands (18)

This is the rush where the personal feelings, whose importance must not be overlooked, reside and where hope somewhat against hope stands to be clarified. The movement forward is reflected in the sense of sweep that characterizes certain early sections of the poem especially, and that here futures forward for another five pages to the bottom of page 23.

The patterns in Pindar’s odes are similar and different, perhaps like jazz-informed swirls of similarity and difference. Thus they also unfold in sweeping fashion, but in formalizing bridges over bridges of strophe, antistrophe, and epode one after another in strict metrical succession, although often with metrical variation, and in any event with so much line-to-line variety that the formalism seems hardly to bear the term. The first strophe of Olympian 1 looks a lot on the page like the passage quoted above (with, on the page printed in landscape, “unknown modes … ripped hills” appearing as one very long line). The resemblance between sections of Sikelianos’s poem and Pindar, it would clearly appear, is not at all insignificant. The line-shaping of this strophe, with editor Alexander Turyn’s wide-angled lens, is relevant and instructive:

Αριστον μεν υδωρ, ο δε χρυσος αιθομενον πυρ
ατε διαπρεπει νυκτι μεγανορος εξοχα πλουτου· [7]
ει δ’ αεθλα γαρυειν
ελδεαι, φιλον ητορ,
μηκεθ’ αλιου σκοπει
αλλο θαλπνοτερον εν αμεραι φαεννον αστρον ερημας δι’ αιθερος,
μηδ’ Ολυμπιας αγωνα φερτερον αυδασομεν·
οθεν ο πολυφατος υμνος αμφιβαλλεται
σοφων μητιεσσι, κελαδειν
Κρονου παιδ’ ες αφνεαν ικομενους
μακαιραν Ιερωνος εστιαν,

Remember that Greek meter is based on syllable length. Shown here is the scheme for this first strophe (actually for each of the strophes and antistrophes in Olympian 1). Short syllables get a curved bowl, long syllables a bar, and, where there is an option of one or the other or of a resolution of one long into two shorts, the one indicator is placed on top of the other:

The first line, in which water stands forth and so does gold as a gleaming blaze, linked in the next line with “leading men of great wealth” (as translated a bit adventurously), signals the choral scheme because of the presence of the “choriamb.” Four syllables are arranged chiastically as two shorts skipping in between the accompanying two longs. With the “iamb,” by contrast, the basic unit for dialogue in ancient Greek drama, you get alternating shorts and longs, also in a four-syllable group, though also with certain permitted variations and with the first syllable in fact being either short or long.

To return to the magnificence of this first strophe, the first line unfolds as a choriambic grouping identified as “glyconic” followed by a choriambic grouping identified as “pherecratean,” and the two make up the wonderful rolling length of what is called, with appropriate excitement, a “priapean.” Meanwhile, the magnificence, along with dazzling rhythms, along with “poikilos” arrangements, develops as a theme. First of all, understand wealth and success as enjoying honor in the poet’s moral universe where they come with “areta.” This accompanying “virtue” takes manifold forms. It is presupposed that the triumphant subject of the Victory Ode bring into the picture not only skill in the contest, but skill in warfare and outstanding exhibition of generosity, particularly with respect to civic life (where it is the tyrannos, or properly βασιλευς, a sort of king who is being celebrated: βασιλευς twice in Olympian 1, and elsewhere; “tyrannos” with general reference in Pythian 3), including the provision of material abundance, crops and sheep and so forth, in addition to an honest and just mode of conduct generally. By nature meant to love and admire (maybe by duty), the poet-singer either praises these traits or in more than one instance encourages the leader to act in his best interests. Often piquant mythical examples, more often persuasive gnomic utterances, push these reminders.

The rest of the strophe plays indirectly to advice of this kind by posing the prominence of the sun, surprisingly conspicuous day-star in pale, empty sky-stream, in relation to the son of Kronos and all-administrating god-procurer of extensive holdings. Zeus holds and holds dear his Olympia and also his Syrakusa, Sicilian seat of his divinity and the prosperous seat (ες αφνεαν ... εστιαν) of his favorite the tyrannos (βασιλευς) Hieron. By adding praise and blame to the process, the poet and entertainer includes himself in that devotion of good and bright and strong properties and qualities, and with his plenteous and tricky skills does what is themis, just as in the next verses, marking the first antistrophe in the ode’s scheme of things and illuminations, Hieron could and does attend to this just and right scepter (θεμιστειον ος αμφεπει σκαπτον). In this splendid manner Hieron both bestows benefits on his community and lives up to his individual calling and renewed fame. They are his and the poet’s glory and audience both.

It is easy to miss the penetrating nature of the correspondences among divine plotholder, tyrannos (or βασιλευς) new on the western scene establishing his emerging city-state, and Pindar the poet, though from elsewhere, being part of it all. It is not just that the different actors in excellence (whether identified as “areta” or, as is the case here, by a descriptive phrase, “gold above the wealth that comes with a great man” [χρυσος … μεγανορος εξοχα πλουτου], which could imply for the leader a shiny wealth greater than wealth itself) are depicted in combined and parallel performances. It is not that mutatis mutandis we are in the same boat, even though coming over to Sicily in a boat had a lot to do with it. God, hero, and human do not simply inhabit corresponding spheres. It is, better, what Mary Lefkowitz describes in stirring detail as an overlapping of roles coming out of Pindar’s “remarkable ability to express more contemporary concerns by restructuring traditional myth and language.”[8] The coordinated relations establish a pulse of back and forth and give and take. This kind of interaction will inform our observations, but not of what it is, not fully appreciated it would seem, if not concomitantly felt in the special and variable rhythms that Pindar discovers.

Remember, therefore, that it is the poet who makes this happen while he creates it, creates, for example, a performance suitable to the occasion. Pindar creates an order of lineation and syntactical groups prescribing involved connections in varied and complicated metrical designs, in layers of form that though touching base in pregnant contrasts ineluctably repeat throughout a particular ode, such being their importance for the most part. Quick interchanges are possible, always and in addition, and are key. Complex and often visually striking, the forms realize the very same rhythm of back and forth and give and take. Indeed, they donate that rhythm. The hypermetrical lines are of this sort; and the medium-length structures are of that sort; even a shorter and yet entreating type will be thrown in now and then. All of the differences of line length, all of the patterning decked out in various ways while consistently forwardly surging, reflect and have a large role in displaying the mutually dependent relations and their happy and, if for monitory purposes, persuasive connections.

Two lines not from Olympian 1 but from the first antistrophe of Olympian 2 illustrate simply the principle:

οφθαλμος, αιων δ’ εφεπε μορσιμος, πλουτον τε και χαριν αγων
γνησιαις επ’ αρεταις.

In the context of acknowledging Theron’s success (with the help of his family before him) in settling and enriching the city of Akragas, the modern Agrigento, in Sicily, the poet salutes good fortune, wealth, and favor coming upon recognized acts of areta or recognized qualities of areta. Thus the long line contains the idea of wealth, to which the idea of areta pays back a short line, a contrasting or, better, “bouncing-back” short line.

Meanwhile, the connections the poet of Olympian 1 makes are something of the myth the poet makes, in reviving myths known and found of course, but in instituting those corresponding origins, where the son of Kronos and the gleaming sky are evoked, and in reinstituting them as if creating a reality both from those origins and also for all the players (including especially the poet himself), he does so as if for the first time.

All this and repeated references to shining (cf., for the moment, the Californian’s “having no tan to work on I was / working on my self, shiny shiny [22]), to appearances, and to Zeus’s place in the order, all with allusions not just to heroics but to cosmogonic and theogonic myths, as well as the evocative origins of a single place, the place to be demonstrated, to be lived in (and as, so to speak), even for the professional poet, and to be celebrated. So it goes in California, the reader can sense, if inclined to seek the poem’s order, that of the poem that becomes and is California, a sort of access enjoyed today but not quite similarly by Pindar.

Eleni’s line arrangements and order of purpose seek the finding of lived origins. They sense, they tactilely sense, the finding of the place California and of her place in it, and achieve much the same rhythmic and musical effects, although, at least in the long line from the passage quoted above, they will do so in and for a disturbed, messy, mucky, and earthily sensed and intuited landscape. California brings some aspects of myth, of feeling and of displacing in a world that, if great, is nevertheless compromised in its rapid descent to gunk and decay, when you look at it honestly: “scum-fringed greenfingered gully muck silent in its ditch by” (18; from the passage quoted above). The bright cosmogony that Pindar takes from myth by recreating the birth of Zeus and associated plots and theogonies linked thereto, e.g., Κρονου παιδ’ from the tenth line of the strophe quoted above, here devolves into a geography that is on the one hand more richly descriptive than anything in Greek poetry (due to the sheer accumulation of junk should you not accept the other reasons), and yet on the other hand is debased, and ripe for repair: “I made // birthmarks at the napes of the necks” (129, from an important stretch of writing continuing through 131). Both features, the power of the description and the difficult appeal of what is to be described and named, are the result of an immense amount of time. Both appear in the poem as a result of the poet’s late and supremely advanced historicity. Yet, above it all or through it all, the stirring of rhythmic patterns, the whole dance, the very shaping itself, come in clearly from Pindar, and you can see evidence of the effects due to different line lengths here just as in Pindar.

What is more, the special hypermetrical line just quoted features a pronounced choriambic moment (in my brackets), “[greenfingered gul]ly,” which is itself part of the glyconic that is the standard line-type of Greek choral lyric. These features are followed in the second half of the line by a rhythm similar to what was noted in the master allusion to Pindar, from Olympian 2, and which my version imitates. Pindar’s line and Sikelianos’s line both veer swiftly toward a conclusion (albeit with a strong enjambment in Sikelianos’s line), the acceleration in both helped by a striking syntactical group containing a string of three short syllables: “silent in its ditch by.” Little syllables in a row are not supposed, by habit and by some good insight, to belong to the poetic line in English, but the case is different here for what Eleni Sikelianos is attempting, substantially by design. Conveniently apt for comparison, her line has the further merit of expressing syllable length in addition to stress accent to complete the metrical form.

In general (it would seem), Eleni’s use of ancient Greek forms is by design and reflects a good deal of exquisite attention, but not that of a direct passage from a poem of the 2000s CE to a poem from the 470s BCE. Her use of Pindar serves not as strict formal device but as a guide for what, in practical terms, is the construction of a beautiful statement from many possible sources. Pindar’s Victory Odes are first or nearly first in our long and lengthening (we hope) literary past just waiting to leap into California’s arms. One fortunate exemplar, and she will pan for others almost without telling herself to, is James Joyce’s strict application of Homer’s dactylic hexameter. So in Ulysses the repeated phrase “cracked lookingglass of a servant” (cf. Eleni’s “halfcracked” [18]) stands out. As an epic formula attending exquisitely to the second half or homeward turn of Homer’s line, Joyce’s image could fill the last three-and-a-half dactylic feet out of six, and since there are only a few choices in this regular meter, the rhythm resonates brilliantly and unmistakably. Meanwhile, the phrase stings with irony; so too Eleni’s phrase, which likens to Joyce’s major idiom, particularly the word “greenfingered,” and which can be either taken as communicating the choriambic unit or as encompassing the complete line unit known as the glyconic, elevates its form in the service of a dissipated and thusly revealing image.

All of this is rich, and has to be. Poetry as verbal plasticity and metrical bedazzlement, and of penetrating multiplicity and complication, is very, very rich, and the metrical scheme tabulating the numbers of the verbal reach in Pindar’s Olympian 1, as shown above, or something very like it, could serve very well for this page (18). In all its brilliance and invigoration it is one of the most stellar passages, however earthy it may be, in Sikelianos’s long and industrious poem.

As mythopoetics, to return to the shine of a major discourse, Eleni’s poetry-making in The California Poem illustrates, and in so doing enacts, her initiation into the sacredness of her world. Hers the big and glowing other, her world entertains the idea of California and then becomes California, as it only can be, as when her writing repeats the changes that are the creation of the world California. Indeed, the poem’s “Prologue” speaks to an absorbing newness, in images that will be probed and polluted (as noted), and has the flavor of the opening chapters of Genesis (“After the last light on clouds, darkness came laying over the known world” [7]) while calling, in restricted lines centered on the page almost vertically and closing the prologue, for regenerative tones:

Now: to let go what we knew
to not be tight, but
toney; to find a world, a word
we didn’t know (9)

A project of poignant emotional quickness, the poem of California is the poetry of Eleni is the phenomenological, because it “shines,” recreation and sanctification-cum-stratification of the world, in time. Sassy-driving, and sad, not Sadducee but a saddened she coming down from mountain mists (16), Eleni duly tells her California anew. She saves it when she creates it. She breaks it forth to her heart’s content and rue; and it is on this effort that the melancholy of historicity, i.e., hers, that of her being in time, that of her California in full and infinity-hailing extension, shines. Not a rolling up of the past, but a presence in meant time, her California can now be nothing other than a starting over, if only for starters.

Historicity, oddly over and over again, is Eleni’s personalized stamp of writing, is writing “her story,” or better “(t)history.” The historicity of California is where the place — her place — renews and relives origins, and so not expressly but only impliedly is devoted to the supplementarity that defines all writing. How the poem reaches to mythopoetics is not easy to determine. It is perhaps because it seems so unusual in its sacralizing commitment, showing the attempt, provided the reader may really look through it, of herself creating the world by this very extended poem, that it acquires this commitment to explanatory depth as well. By piercing through but paradoxically encompassing all forms of the poetry and the world, Eleni writes herself and writes California, as instance and initiation, without which nothing else can be, and almost surreptitiously with which, no pressure from angling aside, the story, what she calls again and again her “dream” (even when it seems no longer to be that vision’s aspect), can be sold, in other words, can be enriched and magnified, told, retold, firstly told, to the end, obvious but not so easy of refined expression as with which she, Eleni, may still glow, of realizing it, but by all means, if possible, of fully realizing it, fully standing in the chances before it dissolves.

Yet you will see that Eleni, not only lifted but in beauty tumbling, has other birds to fly. History being an inquiry, it aims for its own method in its being in time. The surpassing of all curiosity thought visibly possible, Eleni’s poem aims for a kind of Dasein whereby it defines place and existence in conspicuous measure of all-out risk-taking. As a consequence, it is not at all surprising that Eleni’s place and her and California’s origins are altogether much about geometry, hers being the measure of earth, metrics in earth wisdom, the earth standing and the earth as yet another adventure, in shapes too primal and too rich for numbers were it not for their rhythm. A moving forward in waves of splendid writing entails impression of land, and so ocean is a watery land, even dust and light gloriously afloat from geometry (130). Such rhythms may signal the geodic aspect, the earth-song geometry that Eleni affirms, e.g., to cordon off a later section with

Bright spores of daylight,
Belle de Nature, come see

4 x 4 destruction:
me (119)

or not so evidently imbued with sorrow (and not so much later but in a transitional forward-gesturing section), the phrase “a cool geometry” closing an inner segment and putting the observer in time-space with eyes heading left-right (82) that graces a one-page section propped in turn on two pages of elaborate “Timetable.” In this section’s close, the “phenomenological” theme of creative appearing sheds a tentative hopefulness: “(An earthly beauty shines / through the broken lights)” (82). The references to “earth” in such enclosings, such delineations, do not prove but rather contribute to the “geodic,” earth-singing character of The California Poem. So in the section-ending affirmation of “horology” as opposed to “geology,” thinking of pattern and shape supports the feeling: “In this horology, ‘twist the tide pool and the stars into the pattern of paleontology and time’” (174), where the all-important bordering — and oozing and murky and soft — seashore participates in poetic form, and not only this once. Or in a landscape, as in “country measured out” (139), this geometry is defined, with more of that measuring, and with a scientifically secure instrumentation in numbers, where Eleni images and imagines for herself (it will also be her shelf):

now empty California
of its patterns
of maximum

in my little 2 ft. x 2 ft. plot
of thought (106)

The interest in myth as California seems to point to the Chumash, the people and language of the place (52; 80–81), as well as to flora and fauna regarded in their special illuminations, how they occasion eloquence in discursive maneuvers among life-science questions. More intuitively, the myth and origins of California take expressive form as this “cool geometry,” this taking a stand by means of taking measure of very Earth, of precious and beloved Earth. This from Edmund Husserl’s essay, famous among his shorter compositions, titled “The Origin of Geometry,” bears on the metaphorical position toward which Sikelianos grounds her own assertions. Uncertainty, in support of confidence and feeling, remains alive and well with Sikelianos, whereas uncertainty and a concern with grounds and horizons trouble the philosopher no end:

All questioning and demonstrating which is in the usual sense historical presupposes history [Geschichte] as the universal horizon of questioning, not explicitly, but still as a horizon of implicit certainty, which, in spite of all vague background-indeterminacy, is the presupposition of all determinability, or of all intention to seek and to establish determined facts.[9]

Husserl aims at the ideal structure of the foundation of geometrical science. Revealing the structural principles of this origin, which reserves for itself its occurrence, and as origin its status of having necessarily taken place and being determinate and knowable with apodictic certainty, would apply an equivalent status to the origins of the other sciences and of all knowledge in general. To sustain, or imagine, the origin of geometry, Husserl relies on historicism as speaking directly to a historical a priori which, importantly, establishes and pays homage to horizons for its historical meaning-content. A crucial undertaking grabs hold, necessary to save philosophy and to save western culture in their time of need; it relates to a concept of horizons insofar as they provide a basis for constructing the ideal (and true) knowledge of not only geometrical science but indeed all of the cultural constructs that are in this crisis.

What Husserl means by the concept of horizons, however, is something like a vast extending out in all directions. To be sure, it would have to be from a certain perspective that this extending outward is understood. Indeed, in his short essay “Foundational Investigations of the Phenomenological Origin of the Spatiality of Nature,” Husserl considers all the angles, or mentions them. The historicity of a subject finding a home in the world, the kind there is for humans and shouting of horizons, would offer accounts for many relations and many perspectives on spatiality. Yet the levels of experience thus examined devolve to the observation that people, however individually constituted, “all exist for one another in open, undetermined horizons of earth-space” (228). Openness and indeterminacy of horizons thus phrased do not produce a clear picture. By contrast, “The Origin of Geometry” offers in addition a negative focus, having that much as analytical advantage, where Husserl links “horizon” with a “surrounding,” a present surrounded by history, and furthermore “surrounded by an openly endless horizon of unknown actualities” (266). Appearances of existence to Husserl thus signal the importance of existence in its own right, but in an overly stretched frame. Nevertheless, seeing phenomenologically looks forward to sensibilities about life, and specifically about horizons, and thus occasions much further tightened and expanded inquiry.

So for The California Poem, to the extent this picture arrives true to form, all the blows and blossomings of a poetry on full alert, motivated and energized in a historicity of, in a sense, knowing the not-there (e.g., but only in one sense, “my ideal dream of a landscape dream in which / I am not” [131]); in a self-consuming and self-conscious attitude towards drawing the California that is one’s subject in the form of eloquent actualities; and in all manner of thrilling and deeply sobering facts and situations, determined anthropologically, personally, through documentation, in the study of natural history, in any number of ways made available and all of them richly poetical, all these determined as the actualities of beautiful expressive formations, are or could be thought of as conditioned by the horizon of the unknown. Husserl identifies the situation in time and space that gives rise to the science of geometry as the factual and ideal fiction of what is a priori self-evident and apodictically certain. He gives it to us as a fiction, upon which, granted, epistemological inquiry may build. But what he gives is conceived out of an “openly endless horizon.” Including everything and therefore nothing merely frames the experience without elucidating or, say, realizing it while having the merit of affording for the tester of realities a two-fold insight into Dasein as at once In-the-World and Not-in-the-World. Although it is possible to be struck by the endlessness of horizons, the task becomes one of enjoying the concept of horizon as pertaining already, as Husserl himself might notice, to the “cool geometry” of this heady rush and glory of the writing of a place in the world, in California, its, Sikelianos’s, and ours. Known or unknown, we may grasp these horizons such as they are. We may approach, even as a starting out and repeating initiation, the horizons of our In-the-World experience for what they truthfully are.

What, then, is the character, what is the Gestalt, what are the revealingly and shiningly configured horizons that we may seek to celebrate California? By the way, it could be an actual horizon in a geographically defined space, such as the special horizon of sea and earth, and specifically the California coastline that so fascinates the poet and institutes some of her best writing in the sand.

Eleni’s poem is historical in the form in which she as subject relates to the land as subject. The presentation of her own character, along with the state of California as character, defines this history, this (t)history, in certain relations to a span of time reaching to its greatest extent and considered from a number of different perspectives, and as the coordination of them. As temporality this writing, so too as spatiality or as the geography that is naturally one of its aspects, relates to its subject in terms of a formation or perhaps Gestalt for which the concept of geometry, when she names it, serves as a clear, distinct, and appropriate metaphor. Her writing succeeds most importantly as a mapping of horizons, a precise drawing of the “curve of horizon.” The spatiality and temporality connect in the form that constitutes the historicity of her undertaking. The historicity of Eleni’s writing is worthy of Dasein in the sense that her existence is a defining and constitution of her place in California, her geometrical, one could say, and brilliant appearance in the vastness of time and space of California; not, however, as precisely this extension but rather as the horizons that are so beautifully rendered in the poem, that emerge front and center in and through the writing’s sweep and panache, and assume this particular constitutive form that can only be understood as the writing develops, as it shines and appears, to stay with the phenomenological theme in which the mythmaking may be pursued.

On the one hand, the myth is this shining, and so is recreative. On the other hand, the very layout of text, image, and signs expresses this covalent geometry. The poet may illustrate the nature of her existence in history with a geometrical situating. Further to those moments of emblematic elegance, she unfurls her eloquent writing in section after section, as this geographical and geological outpouring of crucial fact and fictions, all playing into a context, the context of her poem and her California, where the writing positions itself geometrically. This geometry, this discovered and creative form of her measuring her Earth and her place in it, is borne out, one may feel. The poem really draws its measures and its horizons out and really configures them, as opposed to a type of metaphorical prospect not aptly describing the approach here taken, that of inviting the reader merely to interpret the poem in such terms.

Horizons take their meaning, and a kind of place, though many places at once, from an openness to something. It is not an indiscriminate openness to a totality sensed. Totality can never be achieved, but it can be sensed, and its being there perforce reconnoiters as a willy-nilly openness; but it is not that kind of openness for which a poem may become a myth of creation. Horizons for Sikelianos have a connection to which her historical belonging opens itself as a meant and constituted openness, Martin Heidegger’s strictly constituted character of openness as “Erschlossenheit,” the character and means of Dasein being a part of being In-the-World and, still the world, one’s self-existence therein, or in California if you will. The leap into dance-rhythm and bedazzlement finds its potential, by act and by pure confidence, in being there where a really sensed sense — a personal and also geological historicity — mounts.

That way you can look to other horizons, the only way of finding California. Choice is quiet; Dasein is quiet; it has within it the wherewithal to go somewhere else, it has that as its constitutional invite, to find what it has to say, an agenbite of inwit bedeviled in the squelching, squiggly tallow-mulch of sea and sand.

The trick of a poem of this kind may be not to make the writing of the writing unravel in a series, not to take experience in as flowing, even of the exposition of writing as if one is merely to follow and follow some more. This writing of the writing of California compounds its back and forth, therefore, its give and take, in the coordinated backtracking, looking-through-to and anticipating, if we are lucky. Conceiving the poem of California ushers in its temporality, or Zeitlichkeit, what living and writing and writing California is and has and can become.

The California Poem is big, spanning the scores of feelings, of heartbreaks, the makings of hundreds of pages, hundreds of years, hundreds of lifetimes. It is magical from personal weight. The historicity that is its targeted subject comes from this weight and this involving emphasis, articulated in so many different ways, in so many forms of attention to the beauty of it. The beauty of it, who knew? And here attending could assume the face of caring:

Earlier, I had my elbow in the yellowest California, we talked

about the coin-shaped trapdoors on gastropods, as the possible versions

of a virgin California slipped away from me

into the geranium, scraggly

nasturtiums on the fire escape. Here in this living-

room there is no sea. Who


cares about the sea?


I do


because the sea

makes us land-like but think

sea-like                  because I can only ever think


about things swimming there; Delphinidae, which herald love, diligence

and swiftness


(and the constellation delphinus in the sky)


Issuing from the mouth of this animal is a flower: jessant, of a

jerkwater town at the back

of a branch-line train


where runny stars rain by

like eggs, golden

& locked, a hometown is a waiting place, a waiting place is

static inside the heel


I therefore developed longer toes for walking on floating vegetation (jacanidae)

the ancient celadon-and-shining agave lining the path all the way down to the sea (56)


Another passage apt for comparison, this page of writing points to the elemental themes, including fire dear to Heraclitus, that are the familiar architecture of Pindar’s Olympian 1. There is a big difference, however. Sea is her target, savior and hero of sorts, a certain gray and as we know “brackish” type of water, useful and generative but not by itself appropriate to what is connoted in Pindar’s “best water.” Thus water’s wonder introduces gorgeous writing in a section dedicated to flora and fauna issues and bearing the title “Biotic Community: Freshwater Marsh.” Water is an idea, true, but more plangently a swell of fascination for replete description:

Wherever shallow, standing water remains; along the coast in brackish loops, around

 springs, ponds, lakes, and sluggish streams.


 Common Tule, Bulrush, Cattails, sedge and spike rush, pondweed

 Predaceous diving beetle, Giant Water Bug, toadbug

 Gallinule, Coot, Marsh Wren, Redwinged Blackbird, Yellowthroat

 Pond turtles, Treefrogs, Garter snakes (104) 


A simple list is presented, and a charming place-form appears. Lines of exuberant rhythm, though not Pindaric, initiate hope in a world of exuberance by simply naming the names of life, the poet’s life. A section a few pages further on (110–11) will feature rhythms resembling Pindar’s choral variety and offer their own kind of difficult, scratched-out hope (What / is appearing [i.e., not disappearing]? This remains to be / named and seen.”; phrase in brackets mine, but supplied from passage’s context). Here on page 104 water, as it continues down the page as a theme, along with the everpresent “Gold Ruin,” governs as concept for a Dasein expressing itself in relations that, implying a history of essential import, are no different from other sets of relations constituted in history.

Whereas Sikelianos, poet, relates to sea, surge, and source in biodiverse and biometric life determinately known as topic of revered, sacred talk and form of scientific knowledge and naming, Pindar, poet, relates water to high flash and vector of Zeus and human scepter-bearing and heights-endowing brightness, both for renewal and recreation in πολυμαλωι Σικελιαι, “Sicily rich in apple-fruits or rousing of sheep-flocking,” the Sicily here named sounding like and being Sikelianos’s family’s namesake. Elementals and fertility and origins constitutively abide, with a difference in form of language and a boost in fact in discursive intricacy, wholly different as a yellowest form by contrast to bright goldenest gleaming, where the brightness beckons there and water supports, and like it or not in Pindar a different Dasein and different historicity, but Pindar’s not merely past and present and future in that order either, not by a long shot for Eleni Sikelianos in her hosting paradigms and processes that count vitally. So we find The California Poem stylized in anticipation of the ancient counterpart Sikelianos prompts, if she does not quite plot it, as well as flourishing out to a more fully informed history and a more fully directed historicity in its brave encounter with terrible time, but also and sweetly resonating Pindar, healing, even if just barely doing so, or just barely getting to the settling down to what has been done, what to do, what sing. Remarkably, Sikelianos’s poem aspires awash in a courageous uncertainty over the whole questioning brightness of it, the whole, to use the word from Pindar’s Greek and bannering the California mystique, “biotos.”

The California Poem is a poem of facts. It is a poem of science. It is a poem of the life sciences. It is a poem of βιοτος thus extended as potentiality for, perhaps, creation anew in Sikelianos’s “biotic communities” reenlivened in patches of anticipatory and impassioned writing. The poem is, at times, a poem of the geometry of the world in the formations that take place in tandem with the poet finding her lived, remembered, and felt place in the world, in her particular world (even when that also includes “purr Eddie” who “lies [lost] in the land of covalent ditches” [53]; bracketed insertion is mine). Strangely, a poem that means to assume great importance in the world of poetry today is a poem that does, or must, once the poet gets that feeling, which is a feeling despite the strangeness of it, include science as a major developmental theme. Historicity (Geschichtlichkeit) and temporality (Zeitlichkeit) come together in a brilliant succession of forms. Attending to the forms in a certain way, the Gestalt the writing shows itself to observe will open itself to possibilities and choice. Openness of horizons to writing of advanced historicity means that the choice comes and is taken. Historicity means overwhelming love for the task of California, whether or not there is another subject like it in fullness and sadness, and for terrain and sealand the brows thickening in loss.

Thus a geological-geodesical and geopolitical-anthropological timetable, celebrating as an all-encompassing and truthful history, leaves no sphere or region out, beginning with 12,500 years ago, when “[t]he Channel Islands are settled, ‘fire-reddened earth’; ‘glaciers tie up earth’s water’ (thus the islands were closer to shore)” (80). Thus having the form and appearance of leaving nothing out, the timetable goes simply, completely to “CURRENTLY” with plans at the Vandenberg Air Force Base and a connection thereto, not for the first time in the poem, from the aboriginal Chumash language, thus a truly native origin as historically posited in form and appearance. Thusly incorporating the discourse of science for its form and appearance splendored in aesthetic beauty, in appearance and form as the all-encompassing, really felt history of major moments of “Timetable,” the poem leaves no doubt as to the phenomenological, twice-truthful character of what it means by history, by California hers and ours. Science will loom large, burden especially of life science, saddened in its mythmaking preoccupation because of life’s diminishing; but note that in illuminating and enacting these colorful grounds the poem has blended into its sources, either gloaming or positively unglooming, this unexpected, this inescapably necessary, this indescribably celebratory charm.

Regardless of these and other great spans of time, the strength of The California Poem lies in its intimacy, insofar as the personality of the poet writing with her precise accents of advanced historicity develops by the guidance of poignant moments. How this exacting personal tone, both studious, to be very sure, and a flavor or affair of fun, of teenage and young-adult fun with many qualifications, can rate so highly with the aggressive paleontology of California writ immense is the question. Its (t)history provides the sure answer, where it is “horizon” in a meant sense that adds the real and the persuasive time to the poem and makes it great. It alone does that.

Poetry appears in grasp of Zeitlichkeit, for Eleni and for us. Her existence in California is the condition for her writing The California Poem, and this existence is effectively, it should become clear as the writing of the poem progresses, not that of being situated in this place during a particular time, her life, insofar as she leads her life in California, which would in turn be related to the whole life of California, namely its history, and therefore her history and our history. The poem’s beauty lies in relations that are in place very much to the contrary of that form of evident situating in this place and this time and the whole time. Eleni’s place in California comes through, and shines through, not as a datum in a continuum but as a direction and a forum, as the character and quality of her interest in California, and so as the topics or the topology of this interest. For Eleni, being in the world introduces concern, for our edulcoration, perhaps as being situated but not secured, conveyed in one’s place in the bolstering of confidence, not as existence always and everywhere, but because it is this beautiful California that is given and giving, for her place, and in a manner of speaking for our place:

What the little dangers what the large   What medicines will be

needed, collecting     California in the littoral


What was

indicated on the tide charts

under bridges, in bays, in North Beach

Chinatown, what was writ

in water, under wharves with

mussels clinging by byssus threads, stringy

grit-filled frilly girl lips (“The orange flesh of this mussel makes fine

                 fish bait and is also excellent as human food”) (170–71)


With this brand of interest, amplified by all of her special concerns, it comes about that all of the feelings about California take center stage; the melancholy, and joy and humor, and all of that great sadness in Eleni’s inevitable response to the impending loss and extinction, to that unavoidable loss, make their appearance. They persuade us with their beauty, and with their depth and charm, just as California is a destined realm hovering to persuade of belief in beauty. They and California join, in the Dasein-fleeting-floating movement and rhythm celebratory, all because of the way they emerge out of the repeated telling; because of the way, in gorgeous and exceedingly varied yet somehow consistent rhythms, they dream their interest in her California, and her poignantly illuminated caring for California. California and the idea of California, inside these gestures, form the instituting and empowering span of time in which these attempts at definition situate themselves.

Sikelianos’s writing thus makes possible instead an attitude — a positioning and a projection — to the total circumstances of becoming California, as an awareness of the historicity of one’s being California. The poet’s relation to her subject is a matter of choice and hence interest, but expressly to the state of California as California’s historicity. Every observation and assertion in the poem creates anew, again and again, the relation of the poet’s being to California, and also the relation of California’s being to the whole history of California as the existence of Californians in California in the act of their taking stock, in all relations they conceive in that whole time considered at once in some way, perhaps as a time for them, of the being California.

All of this explains how the writing becomes so complicated and so beautiful. It explains how the writing comes across as a beautiful adventure and yet also as a soberly, carefully sustained reentry into our being, in California, as part of the elaborate, and hence delightful however grimy, matter, the occasional piked expression of her quality of being in California. The California Poem admits of scientific writing and lists and tables, all a taking stock for Sikelianos. It admits of detailed, riveting, eloquent, and even metaphorically enlivening writing of natural history, and so taking stock with a purpose toward redefining life among exquisite and surprising paradigms. It admits of passages like this page:

sine & cosine & radian argument

 non-knowledge engulfs me


 In the trackless desert        will I see

     a pillar of light [endnote omitted]

 burning tumbleweed blowing across the Great

 Basin; “plainly men lived here, women

                   died thereabouts”





 I think it’s too late

 to make this poem

 into a specific traffic (pall

 of bright melancholy)


 to know where I falls

 on the inside or outside of time/space


 too late   —   the marked


 of the land has


 submitted its own

 dream & question


      seize me a city from that pale corridor, the future, traveling headfirst


                    into the magnetized sun’s dizzying pits (73)


Following the strict geometrical coordinates of the epigraph, the poet heads down to the directional time of “too late,” not time past or lost but acknowledgement and backtracking to past time’s “Da-gewesen.” It happened there, it happened, it is as Dasein, as considered, felt, there. The speaker is found there, found and lost and delivers herself in her historically conditioned “melancholy,” her personal historicity of being “too late” but really thereby taken back into the presentation of the land and of the dream that equals and plans coordinates with that land. Plus, directed not only backward but inward and forward, perhaps in non-expiring even non-actual (uneigentlich) hope, Sikelianos achieves in and through her sadness her full unreal and fully real presence, her being where she is not, being “too late” but more really on time than ever, even when sneaking around in the corner in government subsidies (49), even when “like a piece of cardboard” (51), in this exquisitely timely too-lateness.

The end of the extraordinary page of writing just quoted above, establishing a mildly “poikilos” flair and tapping in at least two places into Sikelianos’s major Pindaric dance-rhythm, does not end the section. After it, on the next page and all by itself and smack up against the upper-left corner, show forth these amazing, and these piquantly even vengefully awkward, dialectics in extreme brief of California becoming poem and poem becoming California:

Instructions:  Write the character’s death scene, character

California, what would Character California

consider, what

egret flown from

the lake, what regret? (74)


How can a character’s death scene become such a glorious dream, here as more and more melancholy, but revealed as potentiality in dream by the mere but greatly earned existence of the poem as long, big book itself? The answer, a profound feeling escaping irony, is, of course, one of the handful of pastiches on the “what … what … what” paradigm from Pindar’s Olympian 2. Here the “what” scheme that marks the poet’s reinitiating circumstances gleams transparent and undimmed by context and, what is more, equates California, as historicity, with this all-totalizing, richly existing sadness, this well-spent sadness. What you get, then, is the immensity of time (of California) made available (for the first time, as it were) to a poem, incorporating natural history equating with the thought of extinction naturally leading to a personal history, as the Dasein of the historicity of the feeling itself.

Thusly may we find what we are looking for. Heidegger marrying historicity with temporality truly lived (Geistlichkeit and Zeitlichkeit) recaptures sense fully grown through the directedness of Dasein, of unactual or actual sense of existence where you are not, where you are coming, what has been lived and done. Writing can only be living. It can only beam into a horizon as a coming together to place this Earth as California. It only comes in openness to a truer history as time-presence right there, where being same as here is there in this pacing, this patching and practicing, and is a (t)history, according to Sikelianos, recovering what Husserl does not envision, much less let it slip in, as the horizon of geometry. Yet it is by Husserl’s, and earlier Immanuel Kant’s, example that Heidegger could provide the platform of a constructive horizon functioning within a schema of existence in time, and not directionless as a surround, but still directionless and at the same time even more directed than ever. Sikelianos’s geometry, creating against opposable odds her “bright melancholy,” is not a pulling through an endless and hopeless succession of spaces and times, part of what “specific traffic” (73, the page of writing just quoted) would amount to, and so is not at all an unfolding flow of “time/space” dynamism and urgency, but something else again, and nevertheless, and now for yet another first time, gloriously entering into a glowing time and expanse, as if led by that “pillar of light” (73).

Whatever this could be, it is what it has to be in The California Poem. Upon considered reading, there is no doubt of it. If “into the magnetized sun’s dizzying pits” (73) symbolizes adequately Heidegger’s discovery of these geometrics, it also clearly realizes and grasps and finds, finding itself as well, the pillars of Pindar’s oh-so-famous description (from the strophe given above) of “εν αμεραι φαεννον αστρον ερημας δι’ αιθερος.”

For Kant, the intuition of space is the necessary condition for the principles of geometry. This space is necessarily infinite. It simply is that way (as it is “given to our senses”). Thus being so vast, space as presented by Kant in the beginning expositions of Critique of Pure Reason [10] would not serve well as a horizon for the directedness of thinking through and living through existence in what would have to be considered as a form of place. One’s choice of spatiality is crucial to understanding The California Poem by Eleni Silkelianos because she often explicitly and also often implicitly records her experiences geometrically. The task for the reader in turn is to form a picture of Eleni’s geometry and thus, even, to experience along, in some fashion, her being-lived life. Trying to live a life, or thinking or writing about doing so, in unlimited space, or even in any kind of surround, a notion so vaguely delineating, would be meaningless.

To live in and hence draw the shape in and of a detached, dry world filled with light of another order, a thirstling curl of a world as we have seen, requires a practice. So only the meant and directed activity, governed as mathematical and therewith a considered geometry, can fashion the precise “curve of horizon” (100). Leaping into this world measures the form in, and of, the horizon, and so finds the historicity, with the sought empowerment, of Dasein, always a kind of place in the world, always a self-constituting and, indeed, originating world itself, the space and the time of it always poetically informed, possibly. The horizon that the poem seeks may be said to constitute its Dasein in its raised temporality of taking back, anticipating and creating the moment, past, future and present richly understood (Heidegger talking about a horizontal schema of time), and always as a plus the renewed, the redreamt elsewhere and nowhere:

When it “breaks,” we can say it “shatters,”

but there is                   behind                  the breaking line the

                                                                                                                     blind horizon line


and no thing will be broken again

           till another shore (miles and miles past rough sea)


                   border curve — world’s curve — his voice curving past … (101)


The poet sketches a concept of horizon in these pages by means of her choice, and somewhat elusive, turns of phrase and image. The writing in these pages does not, however, prove a subjective experience that would lay claim to a boldly persuasive or strongly impressive instantiating of California depicted. While thrilling, these notions do not themselves compel. Searching and powerful in their approach, they are a kind of mounting evidence urging the project forward. As talking points the projected images might serve the going ahead and doing, by initiating (once again) a form of inquiry that proceeds by inviting the reader to consider how well — and how precisely, intricately, convincingly, and movingly — The California Poem does indeed draw a sufficient curve of horizon. Method and manner lend themselves to finding of home and place. Constituted in vectors and felt in an exquisite geometry of telling, guided by coordinated factors among which the notion of horizon especially compels (“For my pelagic perfect cosine wave / that holothurian travel game // there may be dust on that border between South and Central / but the dividing line between land and sea is no line at all” [132]), Eleni’s efforts to dream her real, historically realized California press on. Thus a shorter section, concentrated and centered vertically (almost) on one page, a well-wrought imagistic poem of sorts, expresses the seeking after paradise and so provides in turn evidence of the nature of the telling, with almost a hint of substantiating geologic time:

     In my seekness I

           salutate California as Empire

           which rendered us capsized

                      to sizes of hipses & thighses


     but like a burger I will rise

                            in bits of bodily heat such as

      god’s abstinence to show

            the Sun’s always a virgin in this assembled


      paradise and every gray whale is gorging

             on amphipods amidst the quantum foam (79)


Poem as sequencing, with educated pace and timing, accumulates to a mythmaking in the service of recreating origins. The how of this telling determines the horizon as a configuration, again aligned with Dasein as poem as California as Eleni as earth. The reader assumes the task of realizing how well this telling unfolds, the quality and character, with California as main character, of a passionate “mythologizing,” a term Eleni employs although when making an apparent wrong turn: “mythologizing the landscape beyond recognition” (95).

It should come as no surprise that the question of California could feature so importantly as a question of horizons. To the extent the concept of horizon contributes to, is already a part of, existence as temporality, with a bead on interest and even caring towards past, future, present, any concern of existence in time rates in the question of horizons. The functional horizon for Pindar’s Olympian 2, as it also functions not unrelatedly though distantly for Heidegger, is Death. So, Death is the Death Valley part of The California Poem, but really more as continuing involvement with sand and dust, and extinction, and it is also the uncounted sands (ψαμμος αριθμον περιπεφευγεν) that serve as horizon for the poet of Olympian 2. To celebrate with ethical and aesthetic distinction is to attend to a concept of recompense. In his giving back, the poet himself shall take care that his arrows do not misfire, for consider the misfortunes endured after Oedipus’s long-foretold slip, and conversely imagine the easy fortune and prosperity of Kadmos’s daughters Semele and Ino, followed by shocks and then followed by honor and a blessed eternal life (βιοτον αφθιτον). Spectacularly, and evidently drawing on mysteries creating in this part of the world a liaison with the beyond,[11] Pindar’s poem takes up the rewards and punishments of the afterlife, to which his private fear of offending by κορος, by presumption in the amount and elevation of his claims, gives ear. The poem ends humbly in the recognition of an unnumbered immensity imaged as sands on the shore and identified with Zeus and for which the poet has no answer except that his power does not extend that far. Sand is his horizon as totality mythically embodied, and so focused and clearly affirmed, and against which the poet speaks in the optative, and thereby both confidently affirms and admits to the uncertainty that without a doubt controls:

   επει ψαμμος αριθμον περιπεφευγεν,
και κεινος οσα χαρματ’ αλλοις εθεκεν,
τις αν φρασαι δυναιτο; [12]

This Victory Ode is special for dwelling so forcefully on conduct and rewards. The poet sets an affirmation of responsibility towards matching pleasure or counter-matching comeuppance against a background of myth hierarchically defined with Zeus at the top. The kind of authority that Zeus embodies in Greek mythology is much qualified and assuaged. The three-person threads of fate or mysterious power of “Moira” itself (this goddess making appearances in Olympian 2) are either beyond Zeus himself or put up there as things go. Yet it is significant where Theron stands, as parallel to where the Olympian wields authority and as a fit subject for praise, on the dispensing of wealth and prosperity ablaze in areta:

ο μαν πλουτος αρεταις δεδαιδαλµενος φερει των τε και των
καιρον, βαθειαν υπεχων μεριμναν αγροτεραν,

αστηρ αριζηλος, ετυμωτατον
ανδρι φεγγος

It is all brightness and light and imagination and brilliance connoting the areta, but proper use of one’s good fortune and staying in the path of one’s shining accomplishments, one’s ολβος you might say, stands firmly behind this presence that Pindar celebrates. The poet performs excellent service in all directions, in memory and awareness, in new and everpresent mythmaking. Whereas the types may come into their own, the reenactment of just and fateful consequences by way of cautioning against irredeemable offenses and by showing what happens in the case of αλιτρα, and also how you can get to the other prize of undimming ease and enjoyment, brings the study and the gesturing of ordered benefactions closest to home. 

Taking her cue from her namesake world, which is Pindar’s new home from home from the home of Thebes from which he travels across the sea (like a piece of cork hopping a fence in another ode), Sikelianos models her own form of responsibility in some ways on that of Pindar. In a soaring and bountiful early section, she cuts her own boat adrift to relive and to describe not a geological or pantheological success but rather the materials of a “green geometry” (31). Against a backdrop of her own life, and personal illumination, and personal character as philosopher, she finds the history, both human and natural, of California. The mythology of sleep and dreams would be the sandman, while dream is littoral and fecund and thus not too much unlike the threaded rim of the sea. Sand and dream hold the answer here. The mythology of time would include the hourglass, time running out and yet time practiced and held and always in new creation as the temple of recurring and return. These little kernels of sand afford a different look from that of the uncountable sands of the poet Pindar’s approaching. Zeus and other fates and distancings as all-powerful are all well and good and connect to a vibrant personified form, indeed, of historicity the like of which doubles as groves of possibility for Sikelianos. 

In the following page from The California Poem, taking to its close a seminal and reinitiating stretch of writing for an understanding in best time, the practice of seeking the profound questions and answers of the day in the form “what … what … what,” as absorbed from Pindar, allows a revealing chink in the mythopoetic armor. So the first one is not a little desperate. Instead of “What friend” it becomes, with significant appeal, “What, friend?” The entire page is fraught with those delightful difficulties abetted by that charm of rhythmic largeness and variety that has made its mark in Eleni’s hopes:

           Yo, thou thouest


 little bird in the earth black back

 of the car            —               Oh, what’s this — the

 car is an earth! the bird is a self! the

 mask is human!      & shows the

 insuperable nest next to the second

 ago, shattered, saying, “What, friend?” “What

 precision” “What art” in proper names we repeat

 tea habits over complex

 centuries in     gold = discovery,   gold =

 luminosity,    gold = grief, greed, the

 killer at the back of the sea, say, says

 words do describe my aversion to drag rag-

 dolls down to the river, a river

 sibling over the middle waters


                It cleans “you”


 Now I’m planning on not being that person that I was


 So you, so you go

 toward the music, human




 It was distant & luminous beyond

 an 8-year-old of my position to move across

 it down toward the sea.

                                   the sea.                   or

     that is how I remember it, what

     I remember I believed (35)


The existence that offers itself to situating in California, from eons ago and in this time of critical mass for living in California in all forms, includes wealth named as money and greed, and therefore without accompanying areta, to be absolutely sure. The horizons known as California include the thirstling curve of horizon in which the dust- and heat-laden aroma of imperiled land finding its horizon features the “eucalyptus” as renowned resurrection plant. If truth unfold, it is from the lignotubers and their many dormant epicormic buds that the eucalyptus grows back after a fire.[13] As words unfold, mythopoetics may return and recapture these origins, these recreation imperatives, as expressing a hope different from the “apocalyptic” moment we are used to calling our time, and so not “bursting apart” but holding fine and secure and “well-wrapped” as it were, in this moment. Myth can express itself as symbol where “eucalyptus,” without too much cleverness, can take place as Dasein, hence of beautiful unfolding and infolding all held in poise and confidence. In the meantime, there is still this very time and temporality (Zeitlichkeit) constituted in and with this historicity (Geschichtlichkeit), by way of the coinage “(t)history” as we have noted, and directed metaphorically as science and measure of earth with tangible results always, an all-constituting geometry necessary for the poem to assume its truthful form and place, with the shining gold, of Pindar’s interest and caring, however tarnished, and the best water now a best and complexly mixed solution of our fecund and immemorially generative sea, scientifically speaking among other aspects, and the target of Eleni’s remembering.

The poet’s initiation into and assumed completion of The California Poem, the California of all life-forms not to be forgotten, fields a deep responsibility extending the ancient Greek poet’s ploys and plays and concerns, in turn undertaking a full assignment of responsibility for its debt to this brilliant model. It is now her brilliance, moreover, in present and perfect struggle, defining prosperity and life by courageously tapping into that gleam of money, a new and different tyrant and not the generous “tyrannos” (or properly “βασιλευς”) trimmed and cleaned to a sparkle by another poet in another time. As Eleni closes another compelling early section of the poem marking her purpose and course, she thus reinitiates, for many occasions and in pure homage to her occasions, her living in the world as understanding of California, hers and ours; she thus redefines the history of her being, tries yet again the Earth-song, hers and ours:

I might find “occasion to
sing war & perfect soldiers”—

 the war that wages over the

 face of the Earth, against

 every edible turtle &

 movable tree, the tyranny

 of money (43)






1. Eleni Sikelianos, The California Poem (Minneapolis: Coffee House Press, 2004), 7; cf. 24–25.

2. See, for example, Mircea Eliade, Myth and Reality, trans. Wilard R. Trask (New York: Harper & Row, 1963), 5–14.

3. See Charles Segal, Aglaia: The Poetry of Alcman, Sappho, Pindar, Bacchylides, and Corinna (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1998), 106.

4. It is hoped that the reader (and particularly the reader of ancient Greek) will make allowances for the fact that quotations in this essay are presented without accent and breath marks. Also, iota subscript will be indicated with the letter iota after the respective vowel. In the text quoted here, moreover, please note that the Greek word for “water” (the third word) would be written with the aspirated breath mark, so that a corresponding word like our “hydroponic” is spelled, as you can see, with an “h” to deliver the sound that comes simply with the breath mark at the beginning of the Greek word. 

5. The edition I am using is Pindari Epinicia, ed. Alexander Turyn (New York: Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences in America, 1944). Semicolon means a question mark.

6. See A. D. Morrison, Performances and Audiences in Pindar’s Sicilian Victory Odes (London: Institute of Classical Studies, 2007), 5–19. In his survey of scholarship on the question of performance, Morrison notes the view emphasizing dance and song elements in performance at page 7. The arguments pro and con may become intricate. For my liking, “dance” being the basic meaning of “choral” is enough to suggest how the splendor of physical movement may be sensed in Pindar’s forms by the reader. It may be enough, in other words, that dance simply be thought of as being essential to the form, regardless of the debate over historical practice.

7. This punctuation feature means semicolon and will occur again, as you will see, five lines later.

8. Mary R. Lefkowitz, The Victory Ode: An Introduction (Park Ridge, NJ: Noyes Press, 1976), 97.

9. Edmund Husserl, Shorter Works, ed. Peter McCormick and Frederick A. Elliston (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981), 266.

10. Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Norman Kemp Smith (1929; New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1965).

11. See Hugh Lloyd-Jones, “Pindar and the After-Life,” in Pindare, Entretiens sur l’antiquité classique 31 (Vandoeuvres-Genève: Fondation Hardt, 1985), 245–83.

12. Please note once again that the semicolon functions as a question mark.

13. John Dawson and Rob Lucas, The Nature of Plants: Habitats, Challenges, and Adaptations (Portland, OR: Timber Press, 2005), 132–33.


View from Montmartre hill, Paris, France. Photo by Bruno Monginoux.

The text of “Democracy” was delivered as a talk at Oxford University’s La Maison française, as part of the colloquium “Littérature, espace(s) public(s) et démocratie” — Literature, Public Space(s) and Democracy — held November 1–2, 2013. For me, it concerns raising a voice of resistance to the illusions of capitalist “democracy,” which is the air we breathe. And evoking an experimental poetic practice that contributes to the permanent invention of a truly democratic space. — Jean-Marie Gleize

There is, in Rimbaud’s Illuminations, a text called “Democracy.” We know little of this text’s composition, as the manuscript is lost. It was published belatedly in a journal (La Vogue, 1889), but we are scarcely surprised to encounter a text of this title from the quill of that democrat Rimbaud, virulently hostile to Napoléon III’s dictatorship, radically aligned with the insurrectionary movement of the Paris Commune — with, one might say, an insurgent, revolutionary democracy. As Bernard Noël has suggested, Rimbaud is a communard “not only in his opinion, but in his being.” Now the particularity of this poem is in being the only one in the collection entirely within quotation marks. It is democracy who speaks. It concerns prosopopoeia. Upon recognizing this, the Rimbaud specialists are perplexed, their opinions contradictory.

To revisit the formulation of one (Pierre Brunel): “Rimbaud’s intention seems particularly difficult to grasp.” In effect, the text expresses imperialist and capitalist violence, announces the massacre of the “logical revolts” … Does Rimbaud affirm and take up the mantle of a conquering warrior for democracy, a manifestation of the people’s power (according to his native, regular scheme: the necessity for destruction/detonation toward a regeneration or a later reconstruction)? Does he take a malign pleasure in transcribing the caricature of democracy delivered by his bourgeois adversaries, evoking the horror and terror it inspires in them? Here we must return to the quotation marks. If Rimbaud expressed himself in his own name, as he does in all of Illuminations’ other poems, he would do so without divagation. In this poem it must be democracy who speaks, saying that which it is and does, its fearsome civilizing program. The result is finally that the reader is led to transfer the quotation marks to the only word in the text which does not bear them: its title.

“Democracy” is by no means the power of the people but the instrument of the people’s domination and oppression; “democracy” is not democracy. This fact allows us to return to the ambiguity of the writer’s gesture, ambiguity that is at once voluntary (the rhetorical work’s deployment of prosopopoeia as concerted device) and inevitable, already having happened: the Illuminations speak at once the unacceptable character of “the rest of the world,” of the world as it is, its violence and the counterviolence necessarily entrained, the more or less utopic visions that it arouses, etc. If something like democracy exists, it doubtless supposes other struggles, other forms of life of which the labor of poetry can make only confused or oblique reports. Exigency, malaise, anxiety, anger, semantic and rhythmic troubles, critical opacity: such are some of the symptoms of this state of discomfiting resistance where one finds the “horrible workers” to whom Rimbaud is brother.

For those who persist “like” Rimbaud, after the flood, in the hive-chaos of big cities, modern industrial and postindustrial societies, those of the western “democratic” empire, the leading sentiment remains that results from the fact that democracy signifies for the moment capitalism, the regime of liberty and liberalism (work, finance, exploitation, profit) — and this democratic capitalism, the polluted air which we breathe, moreover appears as the ultimate and definitive, and for that matter “natural,” form of social life. There is, there will have been, no alternative. Thus the necessity to qualify, to specify: parliamentary, or rather, today, mediatic-parliamentary, democracy, liberal democracy, but also, because quotation marks are there if we try to retrieve, that is to say reappropriate, the word and the thing, “true democracy,” as Marx said, or “wild democracy,” or “radical democracy,” or “insurgent democracy” (as Miguel Abensour suggested, democracy in a permanent state of emergence and constructive critique), or even “democracy without limits” as proposed by Rosa Luxemburg in opposition to “bourgeois democracy.” She subjected “democracy” under quotation marks to an examination of limits and internal contradictions wherein she observed, as did Rimbaud, two closely linked antidemocratic dimensions: militarism and colonialism, the importance of the military apparatus being linked on the one hand to the containment and repression of popular insurrectionary movements, and on the other hand to imposing on the colonized by force of arms the benefits of western economic exploitation and domination.

Thus there is for those, among whom I am one, who continue to read and write within that which we name poetry (that is to say, who situate themselves marginally within the practice of literature itself grown culturally secondary and minor), essentially the consciousness of not being much in phase with democracy as ambient value, as political ideology and as form of government, the feeling of being in no regard represented by the professional politicians and others who themselves are manipulated and ventriloquized by the holds of real power (that of the globalized economy), and with an insuperable sense of paralysis or choking powerlessness. The words slide around, it is enough just to listen. For example this kid from the Maghreb who participated in the 2005 banlieue riots around Paris: he speaks of his parents and the society which would “incarcerate” them. He means to say “integrate” them. This slip understands that such integration might be felt as a process of confinement and violent maintenance of inferior social status. It’s all too evidently symptomatic when some contrarily affirm (against all visible evidence, in situations of extreme material and mental precarity, in the suffocating context of our quote-unquote “democracy”) the actuality of their emancipation. I want to underscore indelibly this phrase in the contemporary poetry journal Nioques from poet Christophe Tarkos, who died prematurely in 2004: “I am not squeezed, I do not choke myself, I am not shattered, I am not buried, I am not surrounded, I am not crushed, I breathe.” He personally supports this affirmation, based on the denial of crushing in its many forms. And if he can support this position, if he can affirm so strongly the negation of the negation, it is because he writes, and because this practice of poetry he understands and lives as insurgent and emancipatory. This incites us to grasp precisely that what initially renders poetry political for Christophe Tarkos is that it is an act, and that this act of language is (or at least may be) singular affirmation, demand for autonomy, form of life and of survival in hostile surroundings.

We must perhaps return swiftly to some naïve distinctions. There has been in our recent history something like a poetry engagé, that of the Resistance, committed to direct communication (simple forms, combat lyricism) with a people awaiting democracy. Before this, when surrealism had wished to articulate itself seriously in the real movement of history, it declared itself “in the service” of Revolution (without retreat, nonetheless, from the ardent necessity of transgression or formal subversion). After the war we see Paul Eluard publishing a book called Political Poems, with a preface by Aragon. The communist poet does not neglect to underline what “politics” means for Eluard, for himself, for his comrades, and the sense of the slogan “from the horizon of one to the horizon of all” (which could equally be the broad slogan for a “democratic poetry”). He does not omit Isidore Ducasse’s encouraging watchword: “poetry must take for its goal the practical truth,” interpreted as enunciating or announcing the passage of eras (a romantic thought) from utopias to that of “human efficiency.” It is patently obvious that the standard poetic ideology, from historical avant-gardes to the neo-avant-gardes of the sixties and seventies, from lyricism engagé to political poetry or the theorization of the “revolution in poetic language” consonant with the desire for Revolution, is one of “efficiency” (to reclaim Aragon’s word) for poetry, more or less immediate or oblique, more or less direct or restrained. 

Yet it is no less clear that around the eighties there was what I shall call a sequence of burgeoning euphoria (combinatorial transgression, subversion, experimentation, invention, action), thanks to varied collapses of that to which it would be anyway pointless to return. The field of contemporary poetry then reconstituted itself (as do families) around two principal poles: that of return (what I call re-poetry) to the fundamentals of a poetry restored to itself, and thus restored to the public, to the common reader, after the disfiguration and aggravation of divorce, and that endeavoring not to break with the heritage of research and adventure, recusing itself from the dogmatic stances and political illusions of the night before and the night before that. We note then the emergence of a generation of poets, published in journals such as Java, or Facial, or Quaderno, or even the Revue de littérature générale of Olivier Cadiot and Pierre Alferi, clearly experimental in orientation but also clearly apolitical, practicing criticism (that of social and/or genre conventions) via modes of ironic distance or parody and derision. Poetry or more broadly forms of critical art in effect posed particularly the question of the cultural hierarchy separating the major from the minor or “popular” modes of expression. An “eccentric essay” (as the author himself defined it) titled “Parodic Art” (published in 1996 under the name Arnaud Labelle-Rojoux) tried to describe and theoretically legitimate some of these practices of a systematic reversal of values (or of confounding registers and genres) that spread in this period of a post-avant-gardism that was a bit skeptical, or at least suspicious regarding the high seriousness of previous generations. 

It would likely not be mistaken to say that the poets of preceding generations took somewhat for granted (against divergent strategic choices regarding the logic of their practice, their modes of realization, etc.) an adherence to a principle, explicitly formulated or remaining implicit, something like an ideal of real democracy, while accepting as largely inevitable the fate of renouncing a large audience, and the much-hurled accusation of “elitism.” The poets of the generation whereof I speak, those I have just said have taken their distance (and not ordered their work according to the expectations of some given belief), found themselves to be subjects of a sort for a practical “democracy” in the sense that they actively refused to ignore the current modes of expression and mass culture (media, screens, collections of official statements, assemblage, sampling, various détournements, etc.). The great question is whether the apparent ideological “retreat,” which at first glance characterizes this body of text, indicates a neutral stance, an indifference to concerns of content (even an unspoken adherence to what they do convey), or whether to the contrary these poets subscribe to a perspective comprising a form of active “resistance” to these formats, these contents, these modes of circulation and public display, etc. These “after-writings” — after the dissolution of dogmas, after the last wave of avant-garde theorizing and sectarians, with faces both of the “ironic” and of the “serious” (collage-writing, investigative or documentary writing) — can doubtless be read as critical but no less as preserving for the reader their share of ambiguity and constitutive undecidability. 

What can be seen, in these writings “after” (and the occasional taking of certain concrete positions on social struggles or alternative movements), is a definite return of the notion of resistance. As all around us gestures of “civil disobedience” develop (from Athens to Tunis and to Cairo, from New York, Occupy Wall Street, from Tarnac to Notre Dame des Landes …) which are like mass protests in the name of democracy without quotes against the decisions or “laws” or official conditions imposed by the police and the court of “democracy,” that Rimbauldian prosopopoeia within which we are always citizens, we notice, in the regime called the poetic, or post-poetic, the fact that the imaginary of resistance continues to resist. It may be necessary here to revisit Francis Ponge’s propositions announced in a number of his “proems” from the thirties — so near us today where we see democratic elections bringing to power religious fanatics, where left governments are anxious to expel foreigners, what is basically a “democratic” progression toward municipal fascism. Ponge, rather than suggesting to his surrealist friends of the time the pseudo-“liberating” whisper (automatic writing) advocated “resistance against words,” that is to say we ought not speak the ideology that speaks us (doxa, stereotypes, clichés conveyed by the mediasphere) but contrarily to work contra-words, on contra-usage, to practice, if needed, “the art of violating [words] and the submission to them.” Such a poetic remains fresh, in the face ofthe “order of things,” which he qualified as “monstrous” and “sordid,” wherein he said that people kill themselves “having been ruined” by these “governments of wheeler-dealers and merchants,” the very “democratic capitalism” that I mentioned earlier. 

Resistance against words, therefore, opposes the silence of writing to the noise of words, or even unmaking and remaking the ceaseless superflux of immaterial information to recover if possible the meanings of the words, the meanings of things and situations and events. But resisting just the same images, the ceaseless flow of images, those which “occupy” our space and our eyes, screen-walls that separate us from each other and from reality. Bearing in mind that these images “constitute part” of this reality from which they also separate us. And therefore it is a matter of working with and on and against these images through superimposition, overprinting, decomposition, etc. Finally, the resistance against images means equally — and I revisit here the “position” of dislocation according to diverse variations and stances of commitment — renouncing the narcotizing magic of nationalist visions, those which nurtured and carried our imaginary political utopia. We renounce this so as to confront clearly our lot: the traversal — using for our writing the contingencies of terrain, of context, of circumstance — of the opaque thicket, that of real contradiction, conflictual and violent. This is one meaning of the phrase borrowed from an artist and installation or intermedia poet (Philippe Castellin): “Poetry isn’t a solution.” If we understand the enduring and insistent and even resistant practice of writing poetry (in the context where it has become a socially minor practice) as a critical and restricted contribution, half-blind, to the permanent invention of a democratic space, we know quite well that there is no solution, and that writing has no purpose but to intensify the questions.

This hypothesis makes sense only if we think of democratic space (the possibility of democracy) as outside of political institutions bearing the name, and if we imagine the concrete reality here and now of autonomous, self-managed “communes” where we can experiment freely with new forms of sensory experience, new forms of exchange, expression, communication, collective activity, life. Such islands of life and action, moreover of reflection and struggle, exist already. Experimental politics, at significant distance from political institutions, are or should be in principle like experimental art and poetry, by definition. It is for us to build our own cabins and the paths which connect them (these may be journals, editorial microstructures, alternative circuits of distribution), and if our cabins are destroyed, we rebuild them elsewhere without becoming discouraged.

And since I began this text with Rimbaud, I end within those quotation marks and logical revolts. The question, poetic and political, is that of words’ meanings. Those given them, or those inflicted. And that which we would like to make. It can arise from this long and “ferocious” sequence (that which develops the Rimbauldian prosopopeia) called by the poet the “logical revolts,” those of the colonized, the exploited, the displaced, the oppressed, then, and now, and everywhere.

Logical, that is to say, inescapable.

Logical as well because that names a return, a reversal, an overcoming, in language, in words, in writing, in traces.

Translated from the French by Joshua Clover.

Additional notes on Will Alexander's 'Compound Hibernation'

Erica Hunt sets this reading up by calling Alexander a metaphysician. One of her students said “like Jimi Hendrix.” Hunt says yes and also Aimé Césaire, Jayne Cortez. How are they all metaphysicians? What permutation of Black Magic is this political postmodern grimoire? What is it evoking?

Just before reading my bullet points and notes on Will Alexander’s poem, I read a story, saw a video that speculated on how Mars looked before it lost its atmosphere. There are speculations about how this happened, how it lost its magnetic poles, but it went from earthlike with seas and air and clouds to a rusty tomb, where our small land robots search for evidence of microfossils from billions of years ago. I thought about this kind of sifting from a whole to atomic, from the big bang’s busting to dust.

When I read a poem like this from Will Alexander, it evokes so many, many expressions of Black people about/in space, coming from outer space, being not extraterrestrial but superterrestrial. Not the first humans, but beings that, larger than life, made humans possible, not in a protohuman, Darwinian hierarchical way. In the overshadowing way that human parents make blastocysts.

The first stanza reminds me of another story. When Barak Obama got elected for the first time, a Black male friend of mine says: “The day after the election, I was walking down the street and a White woman saw me. I mean she actually saw me. She looked in my eyes and saw me.” We talked about this and he briefly mentioned how he is so often unseen, often by White women. Their eyes glide past, around.

To make someone in front of you invisible, in that classical Ellison sense, is a form of magic. (Of course you make yourself disappear, too. Is this White magic? Is this Glenda or a death hallow?) It’s disappearing action, in the way that iterations of the disappeared have been in South America. In fact, this action is a precursor to the other.

The second stanza: at first I thought it was an incomplete line that led to the third stanza, but then I realized I was wrong. I read “like” as simile when it’s a verb. I came to this when I chose the parenthetical phrase because Will left it open. If I were to excise it for clarification, for a second, it would be: “My perception through … that I ingest like(s) a blackened preexistence or (likes) collected hawks through assignation.” Or even: “My perception through … through assignation.” And so do we simply dismiss the hawks? Why such a terrestrial reference in this scope? I thought of them in the way that Etheridge Knight’s “crows” grounded us in a poem also comments on race, Knight’s “On the Black Male Being the #1 Sex Object in America.” This complements Alexander’s work. Knight’s protagonist is in high relief, right here on earth, as the visible object among “snow janes” and “crow janes.” The birds, the chicks, but also in both hawks and crows, soaring black. Or the metaphor for the unforgiving wind that blasts out through Chicago from the stratosphere. What kind of word is “like”? What does it evoke similarities/similes/smiles to?

Trevor Joyce: A bibliography

Editorial note: Trevor Joyce is a contemporary Irish poet whose work attests to the endurance and proliferation of a diversity of modernist traditions in Irish literature. Born in Dublin in 1947, Joyce has written more than seventeen volumes of poetry since his initial collection, Sole Glum Trek, was published in 1967. This book was the first to appear from New Writers Press (NWP), which Joyce cofounded with Michael Smith with the intention of publishing young poets from Ireland and abroad who were not receiving an audience through the few Irish presses in existence. Joyce and Smith published some rather trenchant editorials in the in-house journal The Lace Curtain over the following years; however, their inaugural statement of intent for the press was less polemical. In an addendum to Sole Glum Trek, the editors describe the range and scope of the writers they intend to publish as follows: “Believing poets should be beyond the herd instinct, they belong to no school, movement, club or clique. They are all serious poets, that is, human beings for whom writing poetry is morally, a profoundly central activity, not a mere hobby or ornamental grace” (Joyce, “Irish Terrain: Alternative Planes of Cleavage,” in Assembling Alternatives: Reading Postmodern Poetries Transnationally, 277).  This project began as a study aid for my own research on Joyce, and the material amassed complicates understandings of his oeuvre and its significance to Irish poetry. The primary list of Joyce’s books and chapbooks led to a section on individual poems published, and his editorial work with NWP prompted a record of prose essays and reviews. Each new reference revealed another, and the bibliography quickly incorporated as much of the valuable and scarce secondary criticism as possible. With time, patterns emerged across the bibliography. From the early ’90s onwards, several names appear again and again in the sections on secondary criticism and reviews, so much so that the same four critics are responsible for writing nearly half of all of the essays on Joyce’s work. The bibliography emerged out of frustration with the wildly dispersed nature of Joyce criticism and the lack of a catalogue comparable to Nate Dorward’s checklists on J. H. Prynne (recently extended by Michael Tencer) and Tom Raworth.

There are several points to note and editorial decisions to explain that should help to make the bibliography more useful. All of the sections from “Poetry: Books and pamphlets” to “Video/Sound Recordings” are organized chronologically from earliest to most recent. The critical writing on Joyce which follows — “Secondary criticism,” “Reviews” and “Notes/Introductions” — is organized alphabetically, with “Dictionary entries” arranged chronologically. The references are broadly consistent with Chicago documentation style; however, further information regarding publishers’ names, place of publication, dates, and reprints is also included intermittently. Usually, these additions are intended as an acknowledgement of those editors publishing Joyce’s poetry; however, they also keep the references in line with individual publisher’s style, as in Randolph Healy’s specification of “Bray, Co. Wicklow” as the location of Wild Honey Press. On the subject of publishers, New Writers’ Press was established by Joyce and Smith, along with Smith’s wife Irene. The names included in my references to the Press — Michael Smith and Trevor Joyce — cohere with the editorial information provided in each individual publication.

Returning to the bibliography, the references to Joyce’s poetry collections include information on the number of pages, which is followed by the print run of each collection in parentheses, e.g. (150). This information is important in distinguishing pamphlets from chapbooks and longer collections, and for emphasizing the small press distribution of most of Joyce’s poetry. For with the first dream of fire they hunt the cold and Courts of Air and Earth, I use the acronym “POD” to indicate print-on-demand, which means that there is no print run in the traditional sense. Joyce’s essay “New Writers’ Press: The History of a Project” includes an extensive bibliography of the NWP books in which he is credited for cover art on five of his own poetry collections, as well as several other NWP publications. These include Jorge Luis Borges’s Poems, Michael Smith’s Homage to James Thomson (B. V.) at Portobello, and Michael Hartnett’s Tao: A Version of the Chinese Classic of the Sixth Century. There is a drawing by Joyce of the Man in the Moon modeled on that of Gyffyn Church included in the New Writers’ Press Archive at the National Library of Ireland. That image was used for the cover of Sole Glum Trek (1967), and would later become the logo of Zozimus, a Cork-based imprint of NWP. Incidentally, Joyce also created the cover image for Without Asylum.

The bibliography is not exhaustive; there are a number of publications and references that still elude me, and of course Joyce is still writing and publishing. That said, many people helped in compiling this bibliography, and I would like to acknowledge some of them here: my thanks to James Cummins, Alex Davis, Nate Dorward, Marcella Edwards, Harry Gilonis, John Goodby, Trevor Joyce, Justin Katko, David Lloyd, Jim Mays, and Keith Tuma.

Suggestions for further references would be greatly appreciated and can be submitted to Jacket2— Niamh O’Mahony

Trevor Joyce bibliography

Poetry: Books and pamphlets

Poetry: Periodicals and anthologies 


Unpublished talks

Editorial work



Video/Sound recordings

Secondary criticism

Reviews: Periodicals and newspapers


Dictionary Entries

Poetry: Books and pamphlets

Sole Glum Trek: New Irish Poets. Dublin: New Writers’ Press, 1967. 30 pp. (500).

Watches. Dublin: New Writers’ Press, 1969. 16 pp. (150).

Pentahedron. Dublin: Zozimus-New Writers’ Press, 1972. 53 pp. (1,000 pb; 250 hb).

The Poems of Sweeny Peregrine: A Working of the Corrupt Irish Text. Dublin: New Writers’ Press, 1976. 48 pp. (500). 

stone floods. Dublin: New Writers’ Press, 1995. 52 pp. (400).

Syzygy. Bray, Co. Wicklow: Wild Honey Press, 1998. 16 pp. (228). 

Hellbox. London: Form Books, 1998. 3 pp. (50). 

Without Asylum. Bray, Co. Wicklow: Wild Honey Press, 1998. 13 pp. (98). Online at Wild Honey Press.

with the first dream of fire they hunt the cold. Exeter: Shearsman Books, 2001. 241 pp. (600). 2nd ed. Dublin: New Writers’ Press, 2003. (POD). Online at Shearsman.

Take Over. Willowdale, Ontario: The Gig, 2003. 52 pp. (150). 

Undone, Say. Willowdale, Ontario: The Gig, 2003. 48 pp. (150).

Dwory Powietrza i Ziemi. Edited and translated by John Comber and Lidia Nowicka-Comber. Poznan: Motivex; Dublin: New Writers’ Press, 2004. 137 pp. Dual-language publication of Courts of Air and Earth.

What’s in Store: Poems, 2000–2007. Dublin: New Writers’ Press; Willowdale, Ontario: The Gig, 2007. 322 pp. (800).

Courts of Air and Earth. Foreword by Fanny Howe; afterword by Máire Herbert. Exeter: Shearsman, 2008. 95 pp. (POD). Online at Shearsman.

Poems of Aregemia. Edited by Mark Mallon. Translated by Seija Kerttula and Trevor Joyce. Helsinki: Ntamo, 2012. 80 pp.

The Immediate Future. Cork: Runamok Press, 2013. 36 pp. (100).

Rome’s Wreck. Los Angeles: Cusp Books, forthcoming.

Poetry: Periodicals and anthologies  

“Time Piece. Clocks Err Through Anger of the Watcher.” The Lace Curtain, no. 1 (Autumn 1969): 20–21. Edited by Michael Smith and Trevor Joyce. Dublin: New Writers’ Press.

“I Know These Streets.” The Lace Curtain, no. 2 (Spring 1970): 18. Edited by Michael Smith and Trevor Joyce. Dublin: New Writers’ Press.

“Elegy of the Shut Mirror” and “Surd Blab.” The Lace Curtain, no. 3 (Summer 1970): 30–33. Edited by Michael Smith and Trevor Joyce. Dublin: New Writers’ Press.

“Engravure.” The Kilkenny Magazine, no. 18 (Autumn–Winter 1970): 117. Edited by James Delahunty.

“Death Is Conventional (Song, Probably Evasive)” and “Bronze Through Seagrowth.” St. Stephen’s 2, no. 19. (Hilary Term, 1971): 12–14, 24–25. Guest edited by Trevor Joyce.

“The Fall.” “Ecrivains irlandais d’aujourd’hui; Nombre Speciale.” Special issue, Les Lettres Nouvelles 3, no. 1 (March 1973): 208. Guest edited by Serge Fauchereau.

“Fulgurite.” Icarus, no. 67 (Winter 1974): np. Edited by Edward Brazil. Trinity College, Dublin.

“Mirror: Of Glazier Velasquez.” “Irish Poetry.” Special issue, The Niagara Magazine, no. 3 (Summer 1975): 31–32. Guest edited by Michael Smith and Augustus Young.

“One” and “Mirror: Of Glazier Velasquez.” The Lace Curtain, no. 6 (Autumn 1978): 8–9. Edited by Michael Smith. Dublin: New Writers’ Press.

“‘Two Poems from Magazine’: A Work in Progress.” The Irish Review, no. 8 (1990): 12–13. Edited by Kevin Barry et al. Retitled “Cold Snap” and “Cold Course” in stone floods. 

“The Turlough” and “Cry Help.” “Autobiography as Criticism.” Special issue, The Irish Review, no. 13 (1992): 143–5. Edited by Kevin Barry et al.

“Counmeenole.” In Pathfinder: Skills in Language and Literature, edited by Michael Smith, 166. Dublin: Educational Company, 1994.

“Cold Course.” Irish Times, December 9, 1995, A8. Edited by Conor Brady.

“‘in three quarters now you lie,’ a stanza from his forthcoming Syzygy.” FormCard: Irish Modernism Series, no. 4 (April 1997): np. Edited by Harry Gilonis. London: Form Books.

Some poems. “Lewis Marsh Issue: Five Irish Poets.” Special issue, Talisman: A Journal of Contemporary Poetry and Poetics, no. 18 (Fall 1998): 130–137. Guest edited by Keith Tuma and William Walsh.

“Hopeful Monsters.” The Gig, no. 1 (November 1998): 30–39. Edited by Nate Dorward. Willowdale, Ontario.

“A Father of the Useful Arts (1738),” “Capital Accounts, From OBEX (work in progress),” and “Trem Neul.” Sub Voicive Poetry, no. 2 (1999): 5–8. Edited by Lawrence Upton.

“Approach of Bodies Falling in Time of Plague,” “Proceeds of a Black Swap,” and explanatory notes on both poems. Shearsman, no. 38 (February 1999): 5–9. Edited by Tony Frazer.  

“Trem Neul.” Masthead, no. 4 (January 2000): 18–22. Edited by Alison Croggon. Online at Masthead. In 2000, Masthead became an online journal with issue 4 as the first digital issue.

“Data Shadows,” “Joinery,” “Let Happen,” and “Dark Senses Parallel Streets.” Alterran Poetry Assemblage, no. 5 (December 2000). Edited by David Dowker.

“STILLSMAN.” In Vectors: New Poetics, edited by Robert Archambeau, 170–181. San Jose: Writers Club Press, 2001.

“Saws.” Poetry Ireland Review, no. 71 (Winter 2001): 62–64. Edited by Maurice Harmon.

“Saws.” The Gig, no. 9 (September 2001): 3–6. Edited by Nate Dorward. Willowdale, Ontario: The Gig.

“The Fishers Fished,” “Concentration,” and “Incidents at Cloghroe, Co. Cork.” Southword 2, no. 3 (2000): 10–11. Edited by Patrick Galvin and Mary Johnson.

“Watch.” Southword 3, no. 1 (2001): 16. Edited by Patrick Galvin.

“The Turlough,” “Cry Help,” and “Tohu-bohu.” In Anthology of Twentieth-Century British and Irish Poetry, edited by Keith Tuma, 742–747. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

“Poem from Love Songs from a Dead Tongue. Masthead, no. 5 (February 2002). Online at part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, and part 6. Edited by Alison Croggon.

“Love Songs from a Dead Tongue.” Poetry Ireland Review, no. 74 (Autumn 2002): 42–59. Edited by Michael Smith.

“A Father of the Useful Arts (1738),” “Dánta Grádha 18,” “Watch,” “Without Asylum,” “Approach of Bodies Falling in a Time of Plague,” “Proceeds of a Black Swap,” and “behaviour self!” A Chide’s Alphabet: Second Chiding, May 2001. Edited by David Bircumshaw. 

“To Lily Bloom,” “The Peacock’s Tale,” and “De Iron Trote.” “Remembering Alaric Sumner: A Retrospective.” Special issue, Masthead, no. 8 (February 2004):. Edited by Alison Croggon.

“4 Poems from the Chinese of Ruan Ji” and “STILLSMAN.” Shearsman, no. 58 (Spring 2004): 2–6. Edited by Tony Frazer.

Some poems. In Onsets: A Breviary (Synopticon?) of Poems 13 Lines or Under, edited by Nate Dorward, np. Willowdale, Ontario: The Gig, 2001.

“Dark Senses Parallel Streets. With and for Tom Raworth.” Jacket, no. 26 (October 2004). Edited by John Tranter.

“From Saws.” Free Verse, no. 7 (Winter 2004). Edited by Jon Thompson.

“Counmeenole.” In New Writers’ Press Anthology, edited by Martin Dolan and Michael Smith with an introduction by Declan Kiberd, 93–95. Poznan: Motivex, 2004.

“From a work in progress.” Masthead, no. 9 (March 2005). Edited by Alison Croggon.

“STILLSMAN.” In Vinyl: Material Location Placement, edited by Simon Cutts, np. Tipperary: Coracle, 2005. In this book, Cutts records the exhibition of Joyce’s poem “STILLSMAN” as an installation as part of the vinyl: project for installation held in Cork City during July and August 2005.

“The Peacock’s Tale.” In Cork Caucus: On Art, Possibility, and Democracy, edited by Trevor Joyce and Shep Steiner, 375–377. Cork: National Sculpture Factory and Revolver, 2006.

“From Ana.” Masthead, no. 10 (March 2006). Edited by Alison Croggon.

“‘The Drift’ from Syzygy,” “‘The Net’ from Syzygy,” and “The Peacock’s Tale.” “Towards OuLiPo.” Special feature, Drunken Boat, no. 8 (Spring 2006). Guest edited by Jean-Jacques Poucel.

“From Outcry. Masthead, no. 11 (September 2008). Guest edited by Andrew Burke and Candice Ward.

“From ‘Rome’s Wreck.’” Poetry Salzburg Review, no. 15 (Spring 2009): 137–139. Guest edited by James Cummins, Fergal Gaynor, and Trevor Joyce.

“From Rome’s Wreck. past simple, no. 6 (March 2009). Edited by Jim Goar and Marcus Slease.

“Fragmentos.” RevistAtlántica de poesía, no. 34 (2010): 71–80. Edited by Màrius Torres. Translated by Luis Ingelmo. With an introduction in Spanish by Michael Smith. Cádiz: Diputación de Cádiz. 

[“granted …”] and “Sixth Month, Year 408: Fire.” Cambridge Reading Series: Nour Mobarak and Trevor Joyce, April 2010, 5–6.

“(From Ruan Ji).” In Invisibly Tight Institutional Outer Flanks Dub (Verb) Glorious National Hi-Violence Response Dream, edited by Ryan Dobran, Justin Katko, and Sara Wintz, 18–19. New York and Providence, RI: Life Gang Documents, 2008.

“all that is the case” and “now then.” In The Penguin Book of Irish Poetry, edited by Patrick Crotty, 794–795. London: Penguin, 2010.

“Wretched to me … (from the late Middle Irish).” MATERIALpoetry. Edited by Simon Cutts, np. Tipperary: Coracle, 2010.

Five extracts from The Immediate Future. Chicago Review 56, no. 2 (Autumn 2011): 89–93. Edited by Joel Calahan and Michael Hansen.

Five extracts from The Immediate Future. Truck, February 2013. Edited by Mark Weiss.

Two extracts from The Immediate Future and “when I died …” Return to Default, June 2013. Edited by James Cummins, Sarah Hayden, and Rachel Warriner.  


“Ideologist of Love: The Poetry of James Liddy.” The Lace Curtain, no. 1 (1969): 44–48. Edited by Michael Smith and Trevor Joyce. Dublin: New Writers’ Press.

“The Young Poets, 12: Michael Smith.” Hibernia 33, no. 18 (1969): 15. Edited by John Mulcahy.

“New Writers’ Press: The History of a Project.” In Modernism and Ireland: The Poetry of the 1930s, edited by Patricia Coughlan and Alex Davis, 276–306. Cork: Cork University Press, 1995.

“The Point of Innovation in Irish Poetry.” In For the Birds: Proceedings of the First Cork Conference on New and Experimental Irish Poetry, edited by Harry Gilonis, 18–24. Sutton, UK: Mainstream; Dublin: hardPressed, 1998. Reprinted in “Six Poets: Views and Interviews.” Special issue, The Gig, no. 2 (2001): 45–50. Edited by Nate Dorward. Willowdale, Ontario: The Gig, 2001. Also reprinted in New Writers’ Press Anthology, edited by Martin Dolan and Michael Smith with an introduction by Declan Kiberd, 16–22, 23–30. Poznan: Motivex, 2004.

“Why I Write Narrative.” Narrativity, no. 1 (March 2000). Edited by Mary Burger et al. San Francisco State University. Reprinted in The Recorder 13, no. 2 (Fall 2000): 57–63. Edited by Christopher Cahill.

“Interrogate the Thrush: Another Name for Something Else.” In Vectors: New Poetics, edited by Robert Archambeau, 136–169. Lincoln, NE: Writers Club Press, 2001.

“Irish Terrain: Alternative Planes of Cleavage.” In Assembling Alternatives: Reading Postmodern Poetries Transnationally, edited by Romana Huk, 156–168. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2003.

“On stone floods: A Commentary from a Letter to Michael Smith.” “The Fly on the Page.” Special issue, The Gig, no. 3 (2004): 3–15. Edited by Nate Dorward. Willowdale, Ontario: The Gig.

“On ‘Without Asylum’: An Email Exchange.” “The Fly on the Page.” Special issue, The Gig, no. 3 (2004): 16. Edited by Nate Dorward. Willowdale, Ontario: The Gig.

“‘Approach of Bodies Falling in Time of Plague’ and ‘Proceeds of a Black Swap’: Some Explanatory Notes.” “The Fly on the Page.” Special issue, The Gig, no. 3 (2004): 17–18. Edited by Nate Dorward. Willowdale, Ontario: The Gig.

“Introduction: On This Book.” In Cork Caucus: On Art, Possibility, and Democracy, edited by Trevor Joyce and Shep Steiner, 17–18. Cork: National Sculpture Factory and Revolver, 2006.

“On ‘The Peacock’s Tale.’” In Cork Caucus: On Art, Possibility, and Democracy, edited by Trevor Joyce and Shep Steiner, 371–74. Cork: National Sculpture Factory and Revolver, 2006.

“The Construction of Syzygy,” “The Structure of ‘The Peacock’s Tale,’” and “Some Notes.” “Towards OuLiPo.” Special feature, Drunken Boat, no. 8 (Spring 2006). Guest edited by Jean-Jacques Poucel.

Introduction to “SoundEye 12: Festival of the Arts of the Word. 3–6 July 2008.” Poetry Salzburg Review, no. 15 (Spring 2009): 82–84. Guest edited by James Cummins, Fergal Gaynor, and Trevor Joyce.

“The Phantom Quarry: Translating a Renaissance Painting into Modern Poetry.” Enclave Review, no. 8 (September 2013): 5–8. Edited by Fergal Gaynor and Ed Krčma.

Unpublished talks

“The Role of Poetry in Chinese Cultural Life.” Talk at the Europe-China Association Annual Conference, University of Oxford, 1982.  

“New Writers? Some Irish.” Talk at Assembling Alternatives, Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT, 1996.  

“Irish Practice Imperfect.” Talk at Third Sub Voicive Poetry Colloquium, University of London, 1999.

Poems of Aregemia. Edited by Mark Mallon. Translated by Seija Kerttula and Trevor Joyce. Helsinki: Ntamo, 2012.

Editorial work

Coffey, Brian. Versheet, vol. 1. Edited by Trevor Joyce. Dublin: New Writer’s Press, 1971. 6 pp.

Cork Caucus: On Art, Possibility, and Democracy. Edited by Trevor Joyce and Shep Steiner. Cork: National Sculpture Factory and Revolver, 2006.

The Lace Curtain, no. 1. Edited by Michael Smith and Trevor Joyce. Dublin: New Writers’ Press, 1969.

The Lace Curtain, no. 2. Edited by Michael Smith and Trevor Joyce. Dublin: New Writers’ Press, 1970.

The Lace Curtain, no. 3. Edited by Michael Smith; associate editor Trevor Joyce. Dublin: New Writers’ Press, 1970.

Pawlowski, Robert. Versheet, vol. 2. Edited by Trevor Joyce. Dublin: New Writers’ Press, 1971. 6 pp.

Redshaw, Thomas Dillon. Such a Heart Dances Out. Versheet, vol. 4. Edited by Trevor Joyce. Dublin: New Writers’ Press, 1971. 6 pp.

“SoundEye 12: Festival of the Arts of the Word. 3–6 July 2008.” Poetry Salzburg Review, no. 15 (Spring 2009): 82–194. Guest edited by James Cummins, Fergal Gaynor, and Trevor Joyce.


Review of When She Was Good, by Philip Roth, The Far Side of the Sky, by Maslyn Williams, and Satori in Paris, by Jack Kerouac. Hibernia 32, no. 2 (February 1968): 20. Edited by John Mulcahy.

Review of The Hard Hours, by Anthony Hecht, and Just Like the Resurrection, by Patricia Beer. The Dublin Magazine 7, nos. 2–4 (Autumn/Winter 1968): 107–108. Edited by Rivers Carew and Timothy Brownlow. Formerly The Dubliner.

“Nazi Aftermath.” Review of Camp 7 Last Stop, by Hans Hellmut Kirst, and The Hour of the Unicorn, by James Parish. Hibernia 33, no. 10 (May 1969): 16. Edited by John Mulcahy.

“Reading the Metre Before Moving On.” Review of An Introduction to English Poetry, by James Fenton. The Irish Times, July 20, 2002, B9. Edited by Conor Brady.


Interview by Michael S. Begnal. The Burning Bush, no. 7 (Spring 2002): 44–48. Edited by Michael S. Begnal.

Interview by Leonard Schwartz. Cross-Cultural Poetics, episode 62 (Fall 2004). Olympia, Washington: KAOS-FM.

“Partly for the Shiver.” Interview by G. Keohane. Karnival, no. 5 (October 2005): 9–10. Edited by Dan Finn.

“Poetry, Form, Meaning.” Interview by Keith Tuma in Cork Caucus: On Art, Possibility, and Democracy, edited by Trevor Joyce and Shep Steiner, 377–378. Cork: National Sculpture Factory and Revolver, 2006.

“Finding a Language Use: Trevor Joyce in 2011.” Interview by Niamh O’Mahony. Jacket2, 2013. Edited by Julia Bloch and Michael S. Hennessey.

Interview by Marthine Satris. Journal of British and Irish Innovative Poetry 5, no. 1 (2012). Edited by Robert Sheppard and Scott Thurston.

Interview by Marthine Satris. Journal of British and Irish Innovative Poetry, forthcoming. Edited by Robert Sheppard and Scott Thurston.

Video/Sound recordings

Red Noise of Bones. Dublin: Coelacanth; Bray, Co. Wicklow: Wild Honey Press, 2001. Compact disc.

SoundEye Festival recordings, Cork, Ireland, July 4, 2005. Posted at Meshworks: the Miami University Archive of Writing in Performance.

Question and answer session after a reading at Test Reading Series, Mercer Union, Toronto. October 2007. Mercer Union, Toronto. Available at

Reading with Cai Tianxin at SoundEye. July 2007. Posted September 7, 2007. Part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4.

Reading at Miami University, Ohio, October 2007. Part 1 (no longer available), part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7. Posted at Meshworks: the Miami University Archive of Writing in Performance.

Reading with Fergal and Marja Gaynor, SoundEye Festival, July 2009. Posted to YouTube September 17, 2009.

Reading, SoundEye Workshops, March 2010. Posted to YouTube March 2010. Part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7, part 8, part 9, part 10; Q&A part 1, part 2.

Secondary criticism

Archambeau, Robert. “Another Ireland.” Part 1, Notre Dame Review, no. 4 (Summer 1997): 133–144; part 2, Notre Dame Review, no. 5 (Winter 1998): 135–146. Edited by William O’Rourke. Reprinted as Another Ireland: An Essay. Bray, Co. Wicklow: Wild Honey Press, 1998.

Begnal, Michael S. “The Ancients Have Returned Among Us: Polaroids of 21st-Century Irish Poetry.” In Avant Post the Avant, edited by Louis Armand, 307–324. Prague: Litteraria Pragensia, 2006.

———. “Beyond Tradition: The Wild Honey Poets.” The Burning Bush, no. 5 (Spring 2001): 14–17. Edited by Michael S. Begnal. Online at Wild Honey Press.

Butler, David. “Where to Look for the Wild Honey.” Poetry Ireland Review, no. 79 (2004): 57–60. Edited by Peter Sirr.

Davis, Alex. A Broken Line: Denis Devlin and Irish Poetic Modernism. Dublin: University College Dublin Press, 2000. Joyce discussed on 135–148, 161–164.

———. “Deferred Action: Irish Neo-Avant-Garde Poetry.” Angelaki 5, no. 1 (2000): 81–94.

———. “The Irish Modernists and Their Legacy.” In The Cambridge Companion to Contemporary Irish Poetry, edited by Matthew Campbell, 88–91. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

———. “Is it Really a Revolution Though?: Paul Muldoon and Linguistically Innovative Poetry.” Masthead 10 (2006). Edited by Alison Croggon.

———. “‘No Narrative Easy in the Mind’: Modernism, the Avant-Garde and Irish Poetry.” In For the Birds: Proceedings of the First Cork Conference on New and Experimental Irish Poetry, edited by Harry Gilonis, 37–49. Dublin: hardPressed Poetry; Surrey: Mainstream Poetry Press, 1998.

Dorward, Nate. “On Trevor Joyce.” Chicago Review 48, no. 4 (Winter 2002–2003): 82–96. Edited by Eirik Steinhoff.

Edwards, Marcella. “‘A Scheme of Echoes’: Trevor Joyce, Poetry and Publishing in Ireland in the 1960s.” Critical Survey 15, no. 1 (2003): 3–17. Guest edited by Eibhlín Evans.

———. “Poetry and the Politics of Publishing in Ireland: Authority in the Writings of Trevor Joyce, 1967–1995.” PhD diss., University of Strathclyde, UK, 2003.

Falci, Eric. Continuity and Change in Irish Poetry, 1966–2010. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012. Joyce discussed on 3135.

Fauchereau, Serge. “Ecrivains irlandais d’aujourd’hui.” Special issue, Les Lettres Nouvelles 3, no. 1 (March 1973): 185. Guest edited by Serge Fauchereau.

Gilonis, Harry. “Good Fruit and Sour: Trevor Joyce, Seamus Heaney and the Buile Suibhne Geilt.” “Colonies of Belief: Ireland’s Modernists.” Special issue, Suitear na n-Aingeal/Angel Exhaust, no. 17 (Spring 1999): 107–116. Edited by Maurice Scully and John Goodby.

Goodby, John. “‘Comes the Experiment’: Irish Poetry and the Avant-Garde.” In The Oxford Handbook of Modern Irish Poetry, edited by Fran Brearton and Alan Gillis, 214–236. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

———. “‘Current, Historical, Mythical or Spook?’: Irish Modernist and Experimental Poetry.” Introduction to “Colonies of Belief: Ireland’s Modernists.” Special issue, Suitear na n-Aingeal/Angel Exhaust, no. 17 (Spring 1999): 51–60. Edited by John Goodby and Maurice Scully.

———. Irish Poetry from 1950: From Stillness into History. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000. Joyce discussed on 303–307.

———. “‘Through My Dream’: Trevor Joyce’s Translations.” Études Irlandaises 35, no. 2 (Autumn 2010): 149–164. Edited by Sylvie Mikowski et al.

Goodby, John, and Marcella Edwards. ‘“Glittering Silt’: The Poetry of Trevor Joyce and the Myth of Irishness.” Hungarian Journal of English and American Studies 8, no. 1 (Spring 2003): 173–198. Edited by Kalman Matolcsy.

Howe, Fanny. Foreword to Courts of Earth and Air, by Trevor Joyce, 7. Exeter: Shearsman, 2008.

Kersnowski, Frank L. The Outsiders: Poets of Contemporary Ireland. Texas: Texas Christian University Press, 1975. Joyce discussed on 164–165.

Longley, Edna. “Irish Poetry and ‘Internationalism’: Variations on a Critical Theme.” The Irish Review, no. 30 (Spring–Summer 2003): 48–61. Edited by Kevin Barry et al.

Mays, J. C. C. “Flourishing and Foul, Six Poets and the Irish Building Industry.” The Irish Review, no. 8 (Spring 1990): 6–11. Edited by Kevin Barry et al.

———. N11: A Musing. Dublin: Coleacanth, 2003. Reprinted in Little Critic, no. 18 (Autumn 2006).

O’Mahony, Niamh. Essays on the Poetry of Trevor Joyce. Bristol: Shearsman Press, 2015.

Pehnt, Annette. “Rewritings of Buile Shuibhne in the Twentieth Century.” PhD diss., University of Freiburg, Germany, 1997. Published in summary form in Harvard Celtic Colloquium, no. 15 (1995).

Quinn, Justin. The Cambridge Introduction to Modern Irish Poetry: 1800–2000. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008. Joyce discussed on 108–111.

Sealy, Douglas. “The End of Tribalism: Irish Poetry During the Last Decade.” “James Joyce and the Arts in Ireland.” Special issue, The Crane Bag 6, no. 1 (1982): 74–84. Edited by Richard Kearney.

Sirr, Peter. “The Cat Flap.” Poetry Ireland Review, no. 78 (2004): 110–114. Edited by Peter Sirr.

Smith, Michael. “The Contemporary Situation in Irish Poetry.” In Two Decades in Irish Writing: A Critical Survey, edited by Douglas Dunn, 154–165. Cheadle: Carcarnet, 1975.

———. “Irish Poetry Since Yeats: Notes Towards a Corrected History.” Denver Quarterly 5, no. 4 (Winter 1971): 24.

Steinhoff, Eirik. “Who Needs a Hundred Million Lilly Dollars?” Chicago Review, no. 49 (Summer 2003): 190–196.

Tuma, Keith. “Collaborating with Dark Senses.” “Removed for Further Study: The Poetry of Tom Raworth.” Special issue, The Gig nos. 13/14 (2003): 207–16. Willowdale, Ontario: The Gig.

———. “Introduction to the Poetry of Trevor Joyce.” In Anthology of Twentieth Century British and Irish Poetry, edited by Keith Tuma, 741–742. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

———. On Leave: A Book of Anecdotes. Cambridge: Salt, 2011. Joyce discussed on 93–98.

———. “Whatever Irish Poetry: Some Musings.” The Journal, no. 2. Limerick: hardPressed Poetry, 1999. np. Edited by Billy Mills and Catherine Smith.

Williams, Nerys. Contemporary Poetry. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2001. Joyce discussed on 216–217.

Reviews: Periodicals and newspapers

Begnal, Michael S. “Polar / cold / marks terminus.” Review of What’s in Store: Poems 2000–2007. Free Verse, no. 14 (Summer 2008). Edited by Jon Thompson.

Boland, Eavan. “Evening of Poetry.” Irish Times, August 31, 1967, 6. Edited by Douglas Gageby.

Bukowska, Joanna. “Irish Topography of a Disturbed Mind in Seamus Heaney’s Sweeney Astray and Trevor Joyce’s The Poems of Sweeny Peregrine.” In Ironies of Art/Tragedies of Life: Essays on Irish Literature, edited by Liliana Sikorska, 239–264. Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2005.

Caleshu, Anthony. “On Radu Andreiscu, Trevor Joyce, Leanne O’Sullivan, Laurie Duggan, Giles Goodland, Lisa Dart, and Mark Halliday.” “This Time It’s Personal.” Special issue, Poetry Review 99, no. 4 (Winter 2009): 111–114. Edited by Fiona Sampson.

Davis, Alex. “Purity and Dirt: Review of Syzygy.” The Irish Review, no. 22 (Summer 1998): 114–116. Edited by Kevin Barry et al.

Donnelly, Paul. “Demanding Voices: Review of with the first dream of fire they hunt the cold by Trevor Joyce and In the Aviary of Voices by Karin Lessing.” Stride Magazine, May 2002. Edited by Rupert Loydell.

Donnelly, Peter. “Voices from the Past.” Review of The Poems of Sweeny Peregrine. Irish Independent, September 11, 1976, 8. Edited by Michael Hand.

Dorward, Nate. “In the Net: Review of Robert Archambeau, Randolph Healy, Trevor Joyce, Billy Mills, and Maurice Scully.” Review of Syzygy. The Gig, no. 1 (1998): 57–59. Willowdale, Ontario: The Gig. Online at Wild Honey Press.

Duncan, Andrew. “Pale Angel Exuvial Who Can Mix It with the Chicken.” Review of with the first dream of fire they hunt the cold: a body of work, 1966–2000. Jacket 20 (December 2002). Edited by John Tranter.

Frazer, Tony. “Letter from England.” Poetry Ireland Review, no. 79 (2004): 72–77. Edited by Peter Sirr.

———. Review of stone floods. Shearsman, no. 36 (1998). Edited by Tony Frazer. Devon: Shearsman.

———. Review of Without Asylum. Shearsman, no. 42 (1998). Edited by Tony Frazer. Devon: Shearsman.

Fryatt, Kit. “Process, Product and a Peacock.” Review of What’s in Store. Irish Times, April 19, 2008, B10. Edited by Geraldine Kennedy.

Glavin, Anthony. “Review of Sole Glum Trek by Trevor Joyce, Endsville by Brian Lynch and Paul Durcan, and The Rebel Bloom by Rudi Holzapfel.” Hibernia 31, no. 10 (October 1967): 17. Edited by John Mulcahy.

Higgins, Kevin. “Review of with the first dream of fire they hunt the cold by Trevor Joyce.” Poetry Quarterly Review, no. 20 (Summer 2003): 23. Edited by Derrick Woolf and Tilla Brading.

Johnston, Fred. “Surprised by Familiarity.” Review of stone floods, et al. Books Ireland, no. 191 (December 1995): 323–324.

Jordan, John. “Finding Poetry in Suburbia.” Review of Versheets, edited by Trevor Joyce (New Writers’ Press). Irish Independent, May 29, 1971, 5. Edited by Conor O’Brien. 

———. “Five Voices.” Review of Pentahedron. Irish Independent, September 6, 1969, 6. Edited by Hector Legge.

———. “I Knew These Streets.” Review of Pentahedron. Irish Independent, June 17, 1972, 10. Edited by Conor O’Brien.

Keery, James. “Barbed Wire.” Review of with the first dream of fire they hunt the cold. Poetry Review 92, no. 4 (Winter 2002–2003): 107. Edited by David Herd and Robert Potts.

Kellogg, David. Reviews of Wild Honey Press titles. Samizdat, no. 3 (Summer 1999). Edited by Robert Archambeau. Online at Samizdat.

Kiley, Frederick S. “Review of Selected Poems by Brian Coffey and Pentahedron by Trevor Joyce.” Éire-Ireland: A Journal of Irish Studies 8, no. 3 (1973): 148–150. Edited by Eóin McKiernan.

Latta, John. “Review of What’s In Store by Trevor Joyce.” Isola di Rifiuti, December 13, 2007. Reprinted at Third Factory.

Lloyd, David. “Review of The Poems of Sweeny Peregrine.Granta, probably Autumn 1976. Cambridge.

———. “An Impressive Collection.” Review of With the First Dream of FIre They Hunt the Cold. Irish Times, September 18, 2001, 10. Edited by Conor Brady.

Longley, Edna. “Recent Irish Poetry.” Review of The Poems of Sweeny Peregrine. Irish Times, August 21, 1976, 8. Edited by Fergus Pyle.

Martin, Augustine. “A Worthy Enterprise.” Review of Sole Glum Trek, by Trevor Joyce, and Endsville, by Brian Lynch and Paul Durcan. Irish Press, August 5, 1967, 10. Edited by Tim Pat Coogan.

Mays, J. C. C. “Drift into Net Back to Drift.” Review of Syzygy. The Journal, no. 1 (1998): 58–60. Edited by Billy Mills and Catherine Walsh.

———. “Trevor Joyce’s Syzygy.” The Recorder 13, no. 2 (Fall 2000): 73–76. Edited by Christopher Cahill.

———. “Scriptor Ignotus, with the Fire in Him Now.” Review of with the first dream of fire they hunt the cold. Dublin Review, no. 6 (March 2002): 42–65. Edited by Brendan Barrington.

McCarthy, Dan. “Book of the Day.” Review of with the first dream of fire they hunt the cold. Irish Examiner, February 8, 2002. 20. Edited by Brian Looney.

McCarthy, Thomas. Review of stone floods, by Trevor Joyce, et al. Poetry Ireland Review, no. 48 (Winter 1996): 90–91. Edited by Moya Cannon.

McFadden, Hugh. “Richness of the Many Poetries.” Review of stone floods, et al. Irish Times, December 9, 1995, A8. Edited by Conor Brady.

McGurk, Tom. “Tame Beer and Old Brandy.” Review of The Poems of Sweeny Peregrine, et al. Hibernia 41, no. 1 (January 21, 1977): 22. Edited by John Mulcahy.

O’Brien, Treasa. “Niamh Lawlor and Partners Based on a True Story: A Seminar on Mis-Information. University College Cork, 27 January 2007.” Review of “Based on a True Story: A Seminar on Mis-information,” Cork, Ireland, January 27, 2007. Circa, no. 119 (Spring 2007): 95–97. Edited by Peter Fitzgerald.

Packer, Matt. Review of Cork Caucus: On Art, Possibility, and Democracy, edited by Trevor Joyce and Shep Steiner. Irish Arts Review 26, no. 1. (Spring 2009): 135–136.

Quidnunc, “An Irishman’s Diary.” Review of The Lace Curtain. Irish Times, July 19, 1967, 9. Edited by Douglas Gageby. 

Ramsell, Billy. Review of What’s in Store. Southword, no. 13 (2007): 140–142. Edited by Patrick Cotter. Cork: Southword Editions.

Ryan, James. “Readers Choice: Stone Fields” [sic]. Irish Times, May 23, 1995, 14. Edited by Conor Brady.

Review of stone floods. Books Ireland, no. 237 (February 2001): 260.

Review of with the first dream of fire they hunt the cold. Books Ireland: First Flush, no. 243 (October 2001): 275.

Review of stone floods. Books Ireland: First Flush, no. 189 (October 1995): 260.

Sirr, Peter. “Ways of Making.” Review of with the first dream of fire they hunt the cold, by Trevor Joyce, and Collected Poems, by Pearse Hutchinson. Poetry Ireland Review, no. 73 (Summer 2002): 145–151.

Smith, Mandy. Review of with the first dream of fire they hunt the cold. New Hope International Review, December 2007.

Smith, Michael. “A Modernist Eye.” Review of Syzygy. Irish Times, July 26, 1998, B9. Edited by Conor Brady. Online at Wild Honey Press.

———. “The Young Poets: Trevor Joyce.” Review of Sole Glum Trek. Hibernia 33, no. 9 (April–May 1969): 15. Edited by John Mulcahy. 

Vincent, Stephen. Review of What’s in Store. Galatea Ressurects, no. 9 (March 31, 2008). Edited by Eileen Tabios.

Weir, Anthony. “Review of The Poems of Sweeny Peregrine.” Fortnight, no. 135 (October 22, 1976): 10. Edited by Ciaran McKeown. 

Wheatley, David. “Not So Easy Options.” Review of stone floods. The Irish Review, nos. 17/18 (1995): 191–195. Edited by Kevin Barry et al.

———. “Trevor Joyce’s Courts of Air and Earth.Times Literary Supplement, no. 5584 (April 9, 2010): 24. Edited by Peter Stothard.

Zinnes, Harriet. Review of with the first dream of fire they hunt the cold. Rain Taxi, Winter 2001/2002. Edited by Eric Lorberer.


Brancaleone, David. “The Avant, Cork City, July 2009.” Circa, no. 130 (Winter 2009): 51–52.

Gilonis, Harry. Introduction to Trevor Joyce at Sub Voicive Poetry. January 29, 1999.

O’Mahony, Niamh. “Trevor Joyce.” Poets and Poems. Poetry International. 2013.

“Trevor Joyce.” Prague Literary Review 2, no. 3 (May 2004): 13–14. Edited by Louis Armand.

Dictionary entries

“Trevor Joyce.” In Contemporary Poets, 578. Edited by Rosalie Murphy and James Vinson. London: St. James Press; New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1970. Reprinted in 1973.

“Trevor Joyce.” In The MacMillan Dictionary of Irish Literature, 339. Edited by Robert Hogan. Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1979.

“Trevor Joyce.” In A Biographical Dictionary of Irish Writers, 116. Edited by Brian Cleeve and Anne Brady. Dublin: Lilliput, 1985.

“Trevor Joyce.” In British and Irish Poets: A Biographical Dictionary, 449–2006, 209. Edited by William Stewart. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2007.

The munificence of Trevor Joyce

At left, Trevor Joyce at the Prague Poetry Festival, 2009. Photo by Pam Brown.

For over four decades Joyce has sought a vitality and innovation in his writing that continues to distinguish his poetry among national and international communities of poets. Here, formal constraint is an enabling device through which the chosen themes, ideas, and source texts are aligned and vivified. Joyce’s willingness to delineate these sources indicates a poetry always in excess of its constituent parts. Sources recur across collections and the notes that organize one poem become a palimpsest for another. Director and co-organizer of the SoundEye poetry festival since its inception in 1997, Joyce is a dynamic force in Irish poetry as it continues to change and evolve.

Joyce was born in Dublin on October 26, 1947, and grew up in the city, spending summers with relatives in the Galway Gaeltacht. His literary heritage relates back to his great-granduncles, Robert Dwyer Joyce and Patrick Weston Joyce. Both men were eminent writers and collectors of Irish music whose influence is carried through in appropriations of their work in Joyce’s poetry. Joyce met Michael Smith in the mid-sixties and together they founded New Writers’ Press. The press provided a forum for young poets, national and international, whose work was not receiving an audience in an Irish publishing community preoccupied with the construction of Irish cultural identity. From the outset, NWP worked to make innovative poetry available to a wide audience through large print runs and low-cost production. Joyce’s Pentahedron (1972) serves as an example of the editors’ commitments with a combined total of 1200 hardback and paperback copies printed. In his opening address at the inaugural SoundEye festival in 1997, Joyce reflected on the aspirations of the Press, stating, “We certainly saw what we were doing as alternative to the status quo, but we never saw it as eccentric.” As well as publishing some of the most innovative poetry of the sixties and seventies, NWP was intrinsic to the recovery of Irish modernists of the thirties such as Brian Coffey, Thomas MacGreevy, and Niall Montgomery.

Between 1967 and 1976 Joyce published four collections with NWP, Sole Glum Trek, Watches, Pentahedron, and The Poems of Sweeny Peregrine. In 1983 he visited the People’s Republic of China as a member of the Ireland-Chinese Cultural Society before moving from Dublin to Cork in the following year. After a nearly twenty-year hiatus, Joyce returned to publishing in 1995 with a collection titled stone floods which began a period of extraordinary productivity for the poet. Syzygy and Hellbox were published in 1998 and Without Asylum followed in 1999. In 2001, with the first dream of fire they hunt the cold appeared, a veritable “body of work” bringing together The Poems of Sweeney Peregrine, Pentahedron, stone floods, Hopeful Monsters, Trem Neul, and a variety of poems spanning the course of his writing career. In 2007, Joyce published an extensive collection of new work titled What’s in Store and this was followed by Courts of Air and Earth in 2009 and The Immediate Future in 2013.

Critical analysis by Keith Tuma, Nate Dorward, Alex Davis, Marcella Edwards, and John Goodby among others offers strategies for reading Joyce’s poetry. This scholarship attends to the poet’s place within the national literary history and European modernist tradition and also considers, among other things, the importance of translation, theory, and philosophy to his writing. Such criticism did not always reach its deserved readership, either because of low print-runs or the ephemeral nature of poetry magazines and journals. The bibliography published with this essay consolidates that critical history and acknowledges the contribution of a variety of publishers to Joyce’s poetry. Since submitting the bibliography for publication several more references have emerged, and more will follow as Joyce continues to write and publish poetry.