Clayton Eshleman: From 'ERRATICS,' introduction & sections 1 – 6

Introduction: Fifteen years ago I discovered a cache of worksheets that I had abandoned in the early 1990s. Going through them, I found fascinating passages and lines in poems that as poems did not work. Rather than losing this material with everything else, I typed it up. I think there must have been a hundred or so entries, one to five or six lines each. Since there was no continuity, I put the cut out pieces in a lettuce dryer, spun it, and ask Caryl to pick them out one by one. Her random pick determined the order in which they appeared. I called them “Erratics” after the boulders one finds in fields, provenance unknown. Hunger Press published them as a chapbook in 2000.

A couple of years later, I reprinted them in a revised form in My Devotion, Black Sparrow Press, 2004. Several years after that, I again edited them and added a few of the sightings, aphorisms, and probings that had appeared in some of my books. I also added some quotations of writers and artists whose insights have stayed with me over the decades.

This is now the final version ofErratics,the form of which is once again determined by Caryls random pick (other than for the first and final entries). This last entry is Northrop Fryes penetrating statement on Blakes figure of Enion, fromThe Four Zoas,whose lament is the epigram to The Price of Experience. The first entry concerns the multifoliate spider experience in 1962 that has invested my poetry with a daemon familiar.

The challenge of such notations is to avoid the traps associated with aphorisms: clichés, truisms, commonplace. Here, while many of the entries reflect each other, the random pick creates a shifting galaxy. My aim has been in this labyrinth of tesserae to register the focal points, and the gists and piths, that have supported my poetics over the years. Such are set against a backdrop of speculations on the origins of image-making initially worked out in my book Juniper Fuse: Upper Paleolithic Imagination & the Construction of the Underworld.


 1]: 1962, Kyoto: There was a gorgeous red, yellow and green Aranea centered in her web attached to a persimmon tree in the Okumura backyard. I got used to taking a chair and a little table out there under the web where I’d read. After several weeks of “spider sitting” the weather turned chill, with rain and gusting wind. One afternoon I found the web wrecked, the spider gone. Something went through me that I can only describe as the sensation of the loss of one loved. I cried, and for several days felt nauseous and absurd. When I tried to make sense out of my reaction, I recalled César Vallejo’s poem “La araña”—“The Spider”—which I first read in Bloomington, Indiana, in 1958, right at the time that I had started to get serious about writing poetry. Like the death of the Kyoto spider, the poem had gone right through me. I could not get it out of my mind for months:

          The Spider

             It is an enormous spider that now cannot move
         a colorless spider, whose body,
          a head and an abdomen, bleeds.

             Today I watched it up close. With what effort
          toward every side
          it extended its innumerable legs.
          And I have thought about its invisible eyes,
          the spider’s fatal pilots.

             It is a spider that tremored caught
          on the edge of a rock;
          abdomen on one side,
          head on the other.

             With so many legs the poor thing, and still unable
          to free itself. And, on seeing it
          confounded by its fix
          today, I have felt such sorrow for that traveler.

             It is an enormous spider, impeded by
          its abdomen from following its head.
          And I have thought about its eyes
          and about its numerous legs…
          And I have felt such sorrow for that traveler!

A week later, I decided to motorcycle out to northwest Kyoto and visit Gary Snyder. Gary was not home, so I had tea with Joanne Kyger and, late in the afternoon, started the half-hour drive back home. Riding south on Junikendoori, it appeared that the motorcycle handlebars had become ox horns and that I was riding on an ox. A lumber company turned into a manger of baby Jesus and kneeling Wise men. I forced myself to stay aware that I was in moving traffic. Looking for a place to turn off, I spotted Nijo Castle with its big tourist bus parking lot. Getting off my ox-cycle, I felt commanded to circumambulate the square Castle and its moat. I saw what seemed to be Kyger’s eyeballs in the moat water. At the northwest corner, I felt commanded to look up: some thirty feet above my head was the spider completely bright red, the size of a human adult, flexing her legs as if attached to and testing her web. After maybe thirty seconds the image began to fade…

In my spider vision, the green and yellow of Aranea’s abdomen disappeared. The visionary spider was all red.

I had been given a totemic gift that would direct my relationship to poetry. Out of my own body, I was to create a matrix strong enough in which to live and hunt.

2]: Robert W. Brockway: “It is very doubtful that we have any myths that could be traced back to the last Ice Age, although Wilhelm Schmidt, Mircea Eliade, and other scholars have made such claims. Both, for example, think that the creation story of the animal who dives into deep water to bring up the stuff of which the earth is made originated in central Asia and was brought to the Americas in Paleolithic times.”

3]: A squirrel peers, traffic-confused,
      through its Jurassic periscope
                                                              darts out
                                                                                   flattened anthem.

4]: As an early form of Ariadne, Arihagne (“the utterly pure”) was a spinning hag or sorceress who enjoyed intercourse with the labyrinth and its grotesque inhabitant. When patriarchal consciousness overwhelmed matriarchal centering, Ariadne became a “maiden to be rescued,” who “falling in love” with the hero Theseus gave him a “clew” or thread that would enable him to get in and out and, while in, to slaughter the sleeping Minotaur. The labyrinth, without its central hybrid, was thus emptied of animality.

5]: The uroboros is hardly “prior to any process, eternal” (Neumann à la Jung), but rather a major arrest of movement drawing into its vortex an overwhelming preoccupation with mother-goddessing the earth (carrying in its wake the attribution to women of many of the horrors to be found in nature). Of relevance here is a little poem by Charles Olson excluded from The Maximus Poems:

          the IMMENSE ERROR
          of genderizing
          the ‘Great Mother’


6]:                                   Reality is a feminine wall
          soft and cloud-like, a white Hermitage with a skeleton
                    of steel.

[NOTE. The title of Clayton Eshleman's forthcoming The Price of Experience, from which the preceding has been extracted, comes from "Night Two" of William Blake's The Four Zoas. This work is a literary anatomy, including two long poems ("The Moisinsplendor," written on LSD in NYC 1967 and "An Anatomy of the Night," a “summational vision” completed in 2011); "Adhesive Love," an essay based on Whitman's distinctions between "adhesive" and "amatory" love; three New York city stories; a memoir of selling vacuum cleaners door to door as a teenager in Indianapolis; a poetry and prose journal kept during a 1985 trip to Brittany; essays on Paul Blackburn, César Vallejo, Pierre Joris and Aimé Césaire; three sections of "Noticings" from Sulfur magazine; reviews of works by Leland Hickman, Charles Olson, Adrienne Rich, Chaim Soutine, and Leon Golub; eleven lectures on the Upper Paleolithic painted caves of southwestern France; notes on Carolee Schneemann, apprenticehood, the Medusa, Rodin, and Steven Antinoff’s "Spiritual Atheism”; four interviews and a conversation with Robert Kelly; prose poems inspired by the work of Daumier and Laura Solorzano; a translation of Henri Michaux's poem "Movements"; and "Erratics," a chance-assembled collection of sightings, aphorisms, tiny poems, and quotations.]