Ivan Sokolov on Clayton Eshleman (1935-2021)

Ivan Sokolov
The Poet Is Always under Arrest: A Study in Cave Tones

Published as part of a feature in NLO (Russia), edited by Vladimir Feschenko: "American Experimental Poetry: The Poetics of Language and Ethnopoetics." 

Beware:  This is a (human assited) machine translation from Russian. Consult the orginal in NLO (2021)
Published here with the permission of the Ivan Sokolov.

where vallejo césar
let open sesame
Аleksandr Skidan

We will burn the ultimate essence!
sar Vallejo

Clayton Eshleman's name (1935-2021) says little to the Russian reader, though this author's work runs a red and blue vein through the solar plexus of contemporary American literature. Author of dozens of books of poetry, several collections of essays, and a striking combination of ambition and meticulous translation projects, Eshleman is recognized and appreciated both as a writer and as a literary figure. From 1967 to 1973, he published the magazine Caterpillar, where Zukofsky, Brakhage, and Duncan were published, and from 1981 to 2000, Sulfur (with a title referring both to sulphur and, continuing the insect line, to the yellow butterfly), a major contribution to post-war avant-garde poetry that drew Eliot Weinberger, Michael Palmer, Marjorie Perloff and others. Most of his poetry collections have appeared at two publishers marked, curiously, by a sign of dark bestiality –– Black Sparrow (publisher of Bowles and Creeley) and Black Widow (which also publishes books by Pierre Joris, Jerome Rothenberg). To date, Eshleman has had three volumes of selected poems (1986, 2008, 2015), a monograph (Minding the Underworld: Clayton Eshleman and Late Postmodernism by Paul Christensen, 1991) and a collection of articles (Clayton Eshleman: The Whole Art, edited by Stewart Kendall, 2014). The poet has won many awards. [Image: Eshleman and Joris]

A native and resident of the American Midwest (and a carrier of a thick local accent), however, Eshleman has always focused on transnational routes in the construction of his biography. Having overcome the stifling legacy of a conservative environment (his native Indianapolis was typical of both the Bible Belt and the Rust Belt, with all the ramifications of racial segregation, religious puritanism, and machismo cultivation), in the sixties, Eshleman spent a crucial time, for his artistic development, in Kyoto, Mexico City, and Lima. It was then that his half-century-long journey began with the translation of two Latin American “caesars,” César Vallejo and Aimé Césaire. In reading Human Poems, Eshleman develops a most interesting doctrine of "poetic apprenticeship," and he eventually translates Vallejo's poetry in its entirety -- repeatedly rewriting translations from scratch (the last edition to date is from 2007, a complete collection of poems). He also returns to the author's notion of "negritude" -- criminally absent in Russian -- several times: the complete, first edition of Césaire's Soleil cou coupé, which was published in English by Eshleman in 2011. It is a rare feat of translation, where many poems can rival the original. Add to this the names of other poets he has translated -- Antonin Artaud, Vladimír Holan, and the pleiad of Eshleman's interests begins to form a dark constellation of recognizable and unique outlines.

For all its inscription in the history of the literary process, Eshleman's poetry really stands apart. The Russian reader quickly recognizes in it both a dialogue with the priests of super-reality (although no less polemical than Vallejo and Césaire), and a deeper devotion to the Gnostic, visionary, near-Crowlian tradition -- from Blake the prophet to the accursed Rimbaud and beyond, somewhat tangentially touching the authors traditionally represented in Russia by Mitin zhurnal. It is partly not surprising that these poems are so natural to the Russian ear, accustomed both to the fantasies of Elena Shvarts and to the heresies of Alexander Mironov. Tonally and, if you like, by the very route of his search, Eshleman is in many ways akin to the explosive, terrorist Eros familiar to us from the poetry of Vladimir Earl’ and the work of Aleksandr Skidan (especially from the early nineties). Indeed, disagreement with doxa is a cornerstone of the Russian canon ranging from the Archpriest Avvakum to Pushkin, not to mention Dostoyevsky. In relation to the latter, incidentally, it is noteworthy that one of the books that, by the author's own admission, reformatted his poetics in the early seventies was Bakhtin's work on Rabelais.

With a more finely tuned reading apparatus, however, this illusion of recognition fades away. Clayton Eshleman's only publication to date in Russian -- in a translation, characteristically, by Vasily Kondratyev in the 31st issue of Mitin zhurnal -- enrolls him into the whimsical weave of o-blēk magazine, but this proximity (Clark Coolidge, Carla Harryman) is more than arbitrary: the poet clearly stands apart, asking as it were entirely different questions to an entirely different reader [o-blēk 1990]. In the American context, Eshleman is in many ways a loner. In the sixties he was associated with the "deep image" school, largely invented by Jerome Rothenberg, so to speak "on occasion" and involving a distance from the available poetic methods of both the Beatniks and the Frostists: an exploration of reality through imagination-as-self-examination. The concept was beautiful and suggested a rather subversive, whirlwind practice--but somehow it dissolved into nothingness. Today, however, it could be revisited, given that we now have images of deep space ("the end of night"), the farthest corners of the universe accessible to Hubble, which illustrate (and in some ways suggest) Rothenberg's book of poems from last year, The Mystery of False Attachments. This is in its own way an interesting parallel to Journey to the Center of the Earth, as one might characterize Eshleman's poetry -- it is not for nothing that in one poem he takes the instrument with which our inner ocean of ice was broken by the great Praguer and throws it into extraterrestrial space: "Kafka’s ax, rotating in outer space " [Eshleman 1994: 127] [1].

More steadily Eshleman is associated with postcolonial "ethnopoetics," to which both Rothenberg and Armand Schwerner, a favorite of "our" very own Nika Skandiaka, have indeed made huge contributions: Schwerner reinterpreted the poetry of the Sumerian tablets in his "translations" and Rothenberg worked not only with Kabbalah but also with Navajo Indian folklore and even lived on the Seneca reservation for some time. No less for a movement that turns to the world's folk, ethnic creativity as a resource for a truly avant-garde renewal of language was done by Eshleman, a poet who not only studied various mythological systems for many years, but who also spent decades exploring the primordial imagination in European cave painting. The relationship between poetry and the visual arts in general occupies a huge place in Eshleman's oeuvre -- for example, in 2007 he had an entire volume, Reciprocal Distillations, with selected poems addressing painting and plastic art, from African sculpture to Joan Mitchell, including the triptych in verse and prose, The Paradise of Alchemical Foreplay, written two years earlier as a study of Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights. Eshleman has been exploring rock art in both verse and prose since 1974 (he and his wife even took tours of Lascaux and other caves from 1981 to 2008). Kondratyev recalls with delight one episode during Eshleman's visit to the USSR in 1989: "A Leningrad professor of archeology was extremely surprised to find a poet as his interlocutor" [0-blēk, 1990]. The result of years of research is his 2003 book of poetry and prose, Juniper Fuse: Upper Paleolithic Imagination & the Construction of the Underworld, a fantastic collection that definitively establishes Eshleman's unique status as a poet-scholar. Indeed, the affinity of his poems with the work of Rothenberg, Joris, and other "ethnopoets" is readily apparent--their commonalities fit into the "second," Poundian (rather than Eliotian) tradition of American poetry and come directly out of the dark center of twentieth-century Black Mountain, the most important post-Pound artistic intervention into pre-modern territory (recall both the visit of Olson, the "archaeologist of the morning," to the Yucatan, the Buddhism of Creeley, and the fascinating, supernal shamanism of Duncan). "The Montenegrins" were far from being the only ones to contribute to the esoteric content of literary life : long before New Age, there was the occultism of Jack Spicer, who developed an Agamben-like theory of "poetry dictated from the outside," which clearly had a great influence on Eshleman. This is indeed the line of inquiry that would later incorporate both Nathaniel Mackey's demiurgic jazz and Ariel Resnikoff's dissection of blood-and-soil with magical shibboleths of language. But even in spite of the recognizable amalgam of philosophies in the "ethnopoetic" authors' affinity for rethinking prelinguistic creativity, the analysis of primordial signs emerging at the very edge of grammar, and the attention to cultures of the "periphery", Eshleman still stands out against this background by the particular set of aesthetics with which he dialogues -- this diffuse fusion of Anglo-Saxon poetic engineering with the idiosyncrasies of Latin American surrealism.

Perhaps instead of "ethnopoetics" in the case of this author -- especially when talking about his 1994 book Under World Arrest -- we should speak of a "geopoetics," both in terms of the transcontinental shifts in his poetic biography (Japan, Mexico, Peru, France, Michigan), and in relation to the model of global solidarity that this book offers, where a subterranean lyrical voice drowns in the waves of violence flocking to him from all over the world, from Yugoslavia (one of the untranslated poems begins like this: "I awake at 5 a.m. seeing a Serbian bayonet / in a Muslim woman's vagina" (44)) to the massacre in El Salvador and the brutal U.S. campaign in the Persian Gulf:

Copulation depth
is bounded by an alarm
—the planet’s on fire!—
the news rushes through,
all hydrants on.

Burning Water. Aztec
plucked from a groin.
As if for an instant,
my heart came—

blood’s blossom
set in cream (109) [2].

The punning title of the book (and its central poem (63)) is difficult to translate. The substitution of "house arrest" for earthly/underworld arrest in my translation is not without loss, but the original title, "Under World Arrest" (modeled on the expression "under house arrest"), does leave a lot of wiggle room for the translator. Given the other contexts of the word arrest (cardiac arrest, arrested development), it could have been "tectonic plate arrest" or "planetary paralysis", and if you look at the interruption in the word “Under/world,” you could have "you are detained at the behest of the underworld". Based on the internal form of the third word, which insists on bringing to rest (ar>rest), one could even suggest a Russian-language pun, "ZaMIRanie". The particular poignancy of sound in Eshleman's "world arrest" is achieved by grammatical ambivalence: both the speaker himself and the entire planet are under arrest, and the universe is indistinguishable from the underworld. In a sense it is certainly "Captured by Hell," with perhaps a little too clear a reference to Rimbaud -- though such a translation would risk falling into the trap of monotony and "rhyming" with the title of the poet's earlier book Hades in Manganese (I, however, always felt drawn to translate it into Russian not as "Hell in Mangan" but as "Hádēs Permanganate").

This title, which burns all the poems in the book with a red-hot iron, presents us with the most ancient aesthetic dialectics: captivated by the beautiful (or even the sublime), we are unable to look away and can only free ourselves from it through words. Yet, at the same time as the mystical trance, the artist, imprisoned under inside-out "house arrest," is overcome by real, all too real unheimlich: the uncanny crawls like a stinking bug in the (under)world mud and nibbles off the wings of his sandals, preventing him from flying up -- only through analysis and synthesis, either by flying up in defiance of the black energy of suffering, or by feeding on it can he break free. Therefore, Eshelman's "world arrest" is a stay of creative consciousness in the custody of being, of the entire planet, beautiful but also terrible, when - as in the doppelgänger of the title poem, "Under Louse Arrest" (46), - the World shrinks into a louse that beats the shit out of the artist.

The figurativeness of planetary imprisonment seems particularly important: this is how Eshleman differs from the psychiatric incarceration of, say, Vasily Filippov, who literally had to follow the maxim of his elder comrade Brodsky and "not leave his room.” With Eshleman, the poet can get out of the prison, but his job of conducting an ultrasound analysis of humanity's ethical body is to get himself locked up, to put his imagination behind bars, thereby (as we remember from Pushkin) paradoxically releasing it.

For the researcher of Lascaux, to be sure, the poet is also a prisoner of the underworld, Hades, in which the millennial layers of human history (with its real violence) are combined - in a visual, mimetic act - with mythological notions of the underworld (and of the torments experienced in super-reality). The underground labyrinths filled with archaic art are the Schliemann-Eshleman locus, where the ancient pierces the present. Chained in a (Platonic, of course) cave, the poet-slave (or should we say "Martian in the cages of the General Staff") gropes in the darkness of both others' and his own soul, until he stumbles upon a manganese sun with a slit throat -- the shadow of Ra, waiting out the next night in the stomach of a crocodile.

However, these abstractly sketched associations do not exhaust the deep meaning of "under/world arrest" for the reader familiar with the work of César Vallejo. One could also think of his "telluric and magnetic" ("Human Poems" [Vallejo 2007: 417]) growing from somewhere in the same abyss as, say, Nikolay Zabolotsky's phantasmatic agrovisions, but, by Eshleman's own admission, the book’s "evolution over the years—from 1989 to 1992 [was] threshed by my translation of César Vallejo’s Trilce" (183—184). This poem, much of which was written by Vallejo in prison, where he served six months on a calumnious charge, is sometimes compared by Western critics to Finnegans Wake for its experimental language (and perhaps for this reason they suggest that Vallejo is "the greatest twentieth-century poet in any language"). Eshleman, for his part, likes to recall that at the same time as Trilce, 1922 ("a banner year for modernism") saw the birth of Waste Land and Ulysses and the end of the Duino Elegies, but for the Russian reader it seems more natural to recall that this is the year of Zangezi, a canvas truly comparable to the Peruvian one in scope of conception and radicalism of word-making. In Vallejo's XL canto the deprivation of freedom reveals the complex dynamics of the poetic act: it is both the being imprisoned inside of life itself and the relentless pressure on it from outside, which almost foreshadows Eshleman's "scaling up " of the prisoner Earth:

As if they would have let us leave! As
if we weren’t always clasping shields
at the two daily flanks of fatality!
For today when we test if we even live,
almost a front at the most.
[Vallejo 2016: 118-119] [3]

A similar centrifuge of pleasure and suffering holds Vallejo captive in the LIX canto: one can escape from this sphere only by stopping, by freezing the rotation of the globe itself with an effort of poetic thought, and thus, as if to remove, cancel the idea of scale (I see something like this in the indentation on the cover of Eshleman's book, which dissects the Underworld concept):

The terrestrial sphere of love
left behind below, goes round
and round, not stopping a second,
and we are condemned as a center
to suffer its spinning.
[Ibid: 137-138] [4]

In the pitch-dark book, The Black Heralds, in the last poem, as if anticipating the galloping dimensions of Trilce, the poet's task is still thought affirmatively by Vallejo: in the synthesis of mystery "the sad musical / humpback… denounces from afar / the meridional step from the limits to the Limits" [Vallejo 2007: 162] [5]. But in Trilce this music of the spheres breaks apart (cf. Eshleman: "Forget the orchestra / conduct the pit!" [Eshleman 2005: 3]), and in this is the key achievement of Vallejo the avant-gardist (and future communist): his catastrophic zaum connects gnostic fantasy with biopolitical oppression. The figure who personifies this connection is the jailer from the tenth song, Cancerber: he is a dog familiar to Western civilization, the guardian of the underworld (can means "dog"), but in his altered name we now hear "canzona," and "incarceration," and "cancer." This is how Eshleman summarizes the sacrilegious flights of the Peruvian’s prison imagination (from the afterword to The Complete Poetry by César Vallejo):

I think the key lesson Vallejo holds today may be that of a poet learning how to become imprisoned, as it were, in global life as a whole, and in each moment in particular. All his poetry, including the blistering Eros that opens up a breach in the wall separating mother and lover in Trilce, urges the poet to confront his own destiny and to stew in what is happening to him—and also to believe that his bewildering situation is significant. To be bound to, or imprisoned in, the present, includes confronting not only life as it really is but also psyche as it really is not—weighing all affirmation against, in an American's case, our imperial obsessions and our own intrinsic dark. [Vallejo 2007: 688].

This precept of, as Eshleman puts it, "Planet Trilce" is observed literally in Under World Arrest. The poet is engaged by being—and by the hell in which he exists on an equal footing with others: not an "underground man," but a resident of the "house of the dead." In Vallejo's First Canto there is the phrase "fatal balance" - in Eshleman's terminology it corresponds to the "antiphonal swing" (directly taken by him from another Midwesterner, Hart Crane), that is, the precarious equilibrium between poetry and prose, between Eros and art -- between, let us add, poetry and politics. This punitive oscillation shakes the "tellurian machine" with an incessant convulsion, and thus provides the impossible, dialectical -- poetic! -- balance between the world frozen in evil and the inexorable rhythm of history. Applied to the world that is the underworld, this means that every shift in the earth's mass, every swirl in the cave drawing calls out in the "geo-poet" for categorical solidarity with human suffering - whether it be the massacre of civilians by American soldiers in Mi Lai (South Vietnam, 1969), which went virtually unpunished, or the savage beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles, thirty years ahead of the murder of George Floyd. Then, in 1991, the cops were only found guilty after dozens of civilians were killed in the ensuing protests--but in a poem celebrating King, the chronicle of civilian life is not the main principle. The real incident is hyperbolized by the poet to truly mythological proportions, King is transformed into a pharmakon who has been inflicted all imaginable pain of humanity -- but the result is a special music of displaced language, a slightly disrupted beat of verbal drums. Grasping a higher, artistic truth through a counterfactual depiction of a concrete act of violence against a black man, another darkly colored thread connects us to Vallejo's most famous poem, "Black Stone on a White Stone," where the poet imagines his martyrdom as a brutal massacre inflicted on him by humanity.

For Eshleman, the poet is always under arrest, he is always approaching a heart attack, always retarded -- not in a figurative sense, but in a very real, mystical-ethical sense. This planetary, as if non-partisan solidarity fundamentally distinguishes Eshleman from the pursuit of topicality and rather embeds him in that cosmopolitan tradition, where Wordsworth wanders alone in the mountains and Blok listens to the music of revolution, a tradition homeless precisely because it is under house arrest from all of creation. In other words, there is not the slightest temptation of op-ed journalism in this poetry: in addressing specific historical events, the poet always first of all expands the language itself, while keeping the process of expansion in ethical correlation with the Other. In 1966, Eshleman sums up an angry letter to the Peruvian poet César Calvo about the silencing of Vallejo's memory in Lima: "...we no longer as human beings have any excuse but to live at the limit of our HUMANITY." [Eshleman 1969: 59]. Refusing to rush to the exit from the cave,—which is right there, just stretch out your hand,—blinded by human suffering, Plato’s convict goes not towards the light, but to the darkness, to the depth of his metabolic labyrinth, winding his own guts on his fist instead of the guiding thread. An aoidos in Hades knows, as did Blake: the path of experience lies through an expiration in the torture chamber.

Recalling another Latin American classic, which Eshleman also translated, this tradition could be called "impure poetry" (Pablo Neruda: una poesía impura) - or, as the Bakhtinian in Eshleman would say wholeheartedly (or even heatedly), "the poetry of impurities.” Trilce in his more than convincing interpretation [Eshleman 2001: 153-160] opens with a demiurgic scene of the humiliating defecation of prisoners -- an allegory, or flip side, of the peristalsis of the poetic imagination (to formulate this phenomenology semi-jokingly: the "fatal balance" between constipation and diarrhea -- here’s both Hades and some potassium permanganate for you). Commenting on his translation, Eshelman concludes that nature always turns its ass on man [Ibid: 158] - in this he comes close not to Bakhtin’s Rabelais, but to Georges Bataille's transgressive poetics (and epistemology!) of the body. The only thing that overcomes the impurities (but only by sinking into them and only then by turning them inside out) is, of course, the star of nonsense. Toward the end of Trilce (LXXIII) Vallejo speaks of this openly, bringing together in one stanza an impossible purity and the bodily juices:

Absurdity, only you are pure. Absurdity
only facing you
does this excess sweat golden pleasure.
[Vallejo 2016: 153] [6]

Or, as Dina Gatina writes about it -- with her signature poignancy of Bakhtinian carnivalism - in a recent poem,

don't leave your asshole
you’re a belly-worm
you don't need light
maybe you're in the guts
of a famous poet
why do you need the sun
[Gatina 2020]

In Eshleman's combination of the visual culture of the underground, the poetics of the corporeal netherland and the discoveries made on the lower floor of consciousness, one can certainly see the classical dispositive of psychoanalysis -- it is no coincidence that in Under World Arrest so many sparks are spitted from the consonance of the words “mind” and “mine” . Indeed, the poet is more than thoroughly interested in the Freudian world-system, repeatedly drawing on the works of Otto Rank, Sándor Ferenczi, and Wilhelm Reich in his exploration of the mines of the psyche (these names themselves constitute a sort of additional, minority branch of the psychoanalytical tradition). Of particular interest is the projection of the oedipal complex onto historical-literary relations -- in this, Eshleman is the true heir (i.e., as one would expect, a bastard) to the Kabbalistic constructions of Harold Bloom, the theorist of "influence.” Of course, culturally, it is hard to imagine two more opposing attitudes than Bloom, with his fetishism of power and canon, and Eshleman, sincerely seeking the new and spreading the different through his translation work (and in this respect acting as a true associate of Rothenberg, compiler of giant anthologies that collect innovative poetics from around the world for American readers, and author of the infuriated essay "Harold Bloom: Critic as Exterminating Angel"). It is hard to remember today that Bloom was at first unambiguously associated with the works of American deconstruction -- and perhaps it is in this capacity (as a double heretic: Freudian -- and Blakeian!) that he acts as an effaced predecessor of Eshleman, who relentlessly rejects, "misreads" direct influence and violates basic Western modernity's poetic precepts. In the book's afterword, the poet rejects the Beat theory of improvisation; in "Still Life, with Huidobro" (21), Blake himself is turned inside out ("organiz’d innocence" - instead of "unorganiz’d"); the poet argues with Wallace Stevens (69); threatens to throw Robert Browning's Duchess out the window (126); another poem ends with an anti-Williams call to "Relinquish the hold of / 'no ideas but in things " (23), and a prose fragment rewrites the definition of the story from Ulysses: "Not ‘a nightmare from which I am trying to awake,’ Joyce, but the daymare, in which Venus, flash-frozen and vacuum-packed, sprints, in place, toward us" (65). In an ode to Rothenberg, the recollection of the Holocaust literally crosses out the key message of the Rilkean Apollo (128) -- perhaps Eshleman chooses in favor of Brecht's "Marxian" response to the author of “The Archaic Torso”: it is not "your existence" that you must change -- but the whole world ("Ändere die Welt, sie braucht es"). Another poem argues with one of the fathers of modernity:

I is not an other.
I is, in the other. Rimbaud,
                                      you erred!
You took off your caul bonnet,
you thought you could go it alone (151).

However, this thesis-based, outward-looking Bloomianism, in which the heretic battles his beloved heretics, is not the end of"murdering the father" in Eshleman's poetry. His agonistic exploration of the subversive, chthonic Eros, growing out of earlier models of "hermeneutics of suspicion," intersects many of its insights with Lacan and Derrida. We are facing perhaps the last representative of that phase of artistic thought for which the Freudian-Jungian legacy activated its generative charge with a minimal shift, enough to turn the system of gendered signifiers inside out. Eshleman's transgressive language is a faithful companion (and catalyst) of the erosion of phallogocentrism. In his critical attack on the models of the masculine and feminine available to the artistic heritage, the poet turns to the primaries - to the material expression of those archetypes that fin-de-siècle science was concerned with: the disintegration and harmony that the visionary poet studies come first of all through the oldest traces of human semiosis - cave art, in which the signs of male and female are both intelligible to everyone and utterly estranged. But the most powerful blow to masculinity comes from the reflection of personal experience. The following confession from the above-mentioned letter to César Calvo can be considered a perfect reminder that feminism is always a struggle for male freedom as well:

Before I married, woman was cunt and I treated her with all the disrespect generally due that word;  of course that fucked up my relation to men so badly that that I really never had "friends" in any sense that I cherish now [Eshleman 1969: 58].

Eshleman's second marriage radicalizes this awareness not just of sexual stiffness, but of an inability to trust either men or women, leading the poet in his youth to make "natural" mockery of homosexuals and reducing his sex life to a quickie hookup in the front seat. For more than half a century, Caryl Eshleman (née Reiter) was and remains for Clayton not just a traditional muse and companion (i.e., Williams' "Kora in Hell"), but an essential interlocutor, editor and virtually co-author, sharing with him all the vicissitudes of the planetary centrifuge of love. Reflecting on his poetic alliance with Caryl, Clayton finds for this the most important philosophical concept, "friendship" (54). In the afterword to Under World Arrest, the poet puts it this way:

For over 20 years, Caryl Eshleman has defined the meaning of “reader” and “editor” for me. As a sounding board, she had been invaluable. While it may be occasionally true à la Ginsberg that “first thought [is] best thought,” most of the time, in my case, composition is a slow, percolating process, with material passing through certain filters while other filters are being removed. In these attempts to extract the essence of material whose context is always shifting until it “sets,” her responses, mingling confirmation and resistance, have helped me see through superficial clarities as well as groundless obscurities. More specifically, she has rewritten passages (while in draft) or changed the direction of certain poems with a deft phrase and has taught me to allow another person to enter my creative space with love and harmony. I have even sometimes relinquished control od the poem to her to see where it would take us. It is a joy to acknowledge her participation, therefore, in book after book (183).

In this testimony we see that in its immersion in the other (see the argument with Rimbaud above), Eshleman's alter-poetics goes far beyond the classical model of love/dream/trust: the very emphasis on individual creativity is violated. Co-authorship with Caryl, who in many cases is also the addressee of the poems, "scandalously" literalizes the understanding of the poetic text as the ultimate form of one's speech, aspiring, striving for the other. Caryl, for Eshleman, is not the silent Laura, but rather the Gaspara Stampa that fervently polemicizes with her singer, Stampa, to whom Petrarch, suddenly, responds -- from Hades.

Perhaps it is this transgression from within a seemingly conservatively heterosexual union, this penetration into each other in a completely new sense, that determines one of the most interesting aspects of Eshleman's poetics -- composition. The fluid metaphoricity and "Mayakovsky" affect in the syntax of his poems lend themselves to translation into Russian with an almost disquieting organicity. What is more difficult to retain in the Russian version is the undirected, rambling construction of poetic speech, which after Duncan is almost self-evident for American verse, while in Russian it still meets some resistance from the usual norms of textuality. Russian poetry has not yet fully freed itself from the dictates of strong lines, the willful pursuit of fairway, and transparent and firmly coherent form. For the speleologist, labyrinth-walker Eshleman, all these are of little interest; his poetry values whimsy, "irrelevant" association, engineered chance. According to Eshleman, the poet is one who "wants both synthesis and the mêlée  " (22), that is, behind the innovative looseness of composition for him is the juxtaposition of the orderly convergence of opposites with the disorderly scuffle of the multidirectional wills of the material itself.

It is worth saying a few words about the conspicuous Russian note in Under World Arrest: Clayton Eshleman's short trip to Leningrad, clearly left the strongest impressions on him, and Soviet motifs recur repeatedly in the book. But compared to César Vallejo's memories of his visit to the USSR at the dawn of Soviet civilization, in his Leningrad Journal, not printed until the 2000s, its decline sounds like an enduring counterpoint in Eshleman. Vasily Kondratyev in the above-mentioned publication in Mitin zhurnal talks about Eshleman's visit quite cheerfully (although even there the professor of archeology is somewhat discouraged by the American's genre innovation: one cannot simply erase the border between a prose poem and a scientific article). Eshleman's own memoir of the trip is stunningly gloomy: "No ‘perestroika’ in action yet " (Eshleman 2007: 95). Leningrad, deprived of daylight in December, was indeed not a sweet experience, but the social environment depicted by the memoirist is far more gloomy. The Writers’ Union idiot parade, not the least bit interested in Eshleman's poetry and immediately "charging" him and Dragomoshchenko for regular verse, would drive anyone crazy, but other contacts with the characters of Alexei Yurchak, by and large, appear no less hostile or, at best, pure absurdity:

Visits to four Leningrad artist studios :
1) pathetic “how to draw” painter
2) artist not home
3) Arkadii’s son (20, with some talent)
4) the painter "Africa", who had no paintings in his studio! [Ibid.: 103].

Kondratyev himself also gets his ass kicked by the memoirist, rather unfairly, as a clueless interpreter, but on the whole, one cannot doubt the surrealism of this snapshot of the last days of the Soviet intelligentsia:

After dinner [at the Khazins'], a friend of theirs showed up, with Zeena, Arkadii’s wife. He is a small, intense man, with sparkling eyes and a bushy beard from Siberia. He and his family—including two young children—live in a communal apartment with “a demented homosexual.”  Nearly everyone here has a story that breaks your heart [Ibid.: 109-110].

The only ray that dispels the clouds in these memories is conversations with Dragomoshchenko ("Clayton Eshleman's favorite Russian poet," according to Kondratiev) and a screening of Days of Eclipse (again, a nigredo rhyme: Mayakovsky took César Vallejo to see Battleship Potemkin). Finally, on the way to Pulkovo, at dawn, a menacing poem "Humbaba" is written in a cab - about the antagonist of Gilgamesh with a face made of a GI tract [Ibid.: 108]. In this eerie permutation of the womb and the outer (the deity who sees with his own insides), the Batailleian element reaches a real apotheosis in Eshleman, and the dawning black sun fixes its probing rectal eye on the reader, who, we want to believe, responds in kind.

Whatever Clayton Eshleman's encounter with our culture thirty years ago, today the book Under World Arrest seems to have a chance to sound Russian in a special way. By an unfortunate necessity, the phrase "house arrest" has become a household word over the past decade, not only for Yevgeny Kharitonov's admirers, but also for every Russian who reads the newspapers. The growing bias toward global isolation in the country's foreign policy only sharpened the connotations of the title: the economy of the "sanctions" era is often interpreted in public discourse through another revision of the famous "we are under arrest by the West" trope from the Cold War era. In 2020, however, all of humanity - and with it the entire planet, the world, and existence itself - will already be in detention. On this cosmic note, I will conclude with a poem by Eshleman, which appeared in the new millennium, but summarizes both the significance of Vallejo's poem and the historical interval between the late 1980s and the early 1990s, when the book was written. As the author confesses, "While translating César Vallejo’s book Trilce (1922) in the late 1980s, I became aware that he was assembling in a kind of jump-cut cubistic way a world that operated with much different laws than we think ours does. It seemed as if he was envisioning a new planet " [Eshleman 2007: 119]. In his own poem, Eshleman himself assembles this new planet from the quotation shrapnel of convict Vallejo - isn't this what our, now truly post-apocalyptic, world looks like too?

[essay concludes with Russian translation of ”Planet Trilce.”]

Библиография / References

[Вальехо 2016] — Вальехо С. Черные герольды. Трильсе. Человечьи стихи / Подгот. В. Н. Андреева, К.Ц. Корконосенко; Отв. ред. В.Е. Багно. СПб.: Наука, 2016.
(Vallejo C. Los heraldos negros. Trilce. Poemas humanos. Saint Petersburg, 2016. — In Russ.)
[Вальехо 2019] — Вальехо С. «Я буду говорить о надежде…» / Пер. с исп. А. Щетникова. 2-е изд. Новосибирск: Артель «Напрасный труд», 2019.
(Vallejo C. “Voy a hablar de la esperanza…”. Novosibirsk, 2019. — In Russ.)
[Гатина 2020] — Гатина Д. «не выходи из жопы…» // Facebook. 2020. 25 августа (http://www.facebook.com/dina.gatina/ posts/5056866384339566 (дата обращения: 25.08.2020)).
(Gatina D. “ne vykhodi iz zhopy…”. // Facebook. 2020. 25 August (http://www.facebook.com/ dina.gatina/posts/5056866384339566 (accessed: 25.08.2020)).)
[О’БЛиК 1990] — Поэты журнала О’БЛиК (К. Кулидж, К. Гарриман, К. Эшлеман, Д. Ротенберг) // Пер. и предисл. В. Кондратьева // Митин журнал. 1990. № 31 (http://kolonna.mitin.com/archive/mj31/ oblek.shtml (дата обращения: 25.08.2020)).
(Poety zhurnala o•blék (C. Coolidge, C. Harryman, C. Eshleman, J. Rothenberg) // Mitin zhurnal. 1990. № 31 (http://kolonna.mitin.com/archive/ mj31/oblek.shtml (accessed: 25.08.2020)).
[Eshleman 1969] — Eshleman C. Indiana: Poems. Los Angeles: Black Sparrow Press, 1969.
[Eshleman 1994] — Eshleman C. Under World Arrest. Santa Rosa: Black Sparrow Press, 1994.
[Eshleman 2001] — Eshleman C. Companion Spider: Essays. Foreword by Adrienne Rich. Mid- dletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 2001.
[Eshleman 2005] — Eshleman C. Conductors of the Pit: Poetry Written in Extremis in Translation // Trans. and ed. By Clayton Eshleman. Second edition. Brooklyn: Soft Skull Press, 2005.
[Eshleman 2007] — Eshleman C. Archaic Design. Boston: Black Widow Press, 2007.
[Vallejo 2007] — Vallejo C. The Complete Poetry: a bilingual edition // Ed. and trans. by Clayton Eshleman; foreword by Mario Vargas Llosa; introduction by Efraín Kristal; chronology by Stephen M. Hart. Berkeley: UC Press, 2007.


[1] Hereinafter references to this book are given in the text with the indication of the page in parentheses.
[2] The [Russian] translation hereafter is mine, except where otherwise noted.
[3] "Trilce", XL. Per. by A. Mirolyubova (with modifications).
[4] Per. Andreev. Cf. A. Shchetnikov's translation: "Love, like a ball of earth, / lies beneath us and rotates, / without stopping for a moment, / and we are doomed to suffer, being the center / of its rotation" [Vallejo 2019: 18].
[5] Translation from Spanish.
[6] Per.

 Clayton Eshleman on PennSound & EPC