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Island 27 - Translating the Dancing Sorcerer (from Muse of the Long Haul)

Island 27 - Translating the Dancing Sorcerer (from Muse of the Long Haul)

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Published by Ian Irvine (Hobson)
This sample chapter from Muse of the Long Haul: Thirty-One Isles of the Creative Imagination by Ian Irvine (Hobson) looks at the work of US poet Clayton Eshleman and the impact it had on the author since 1983. Eshleman's work on the origins of art and poetry (in the modern sense of these words) in Ice Age cave art is discussed as is Eshleman's general poetic. A number of books by the poet are discussed or mentioned in passing: e.g. Juniper Fuse, Companion Spider, Archaic Design, etc.
This sample chapter from Muse of the Long Haul: Thirty-One Isles of the Creative Imagination by Ian Irvine (Hobson) looks at the work of US poet Clayton Eshleman and the impact it had on the author since 1983. Eshleman's work on the origins of art and poetry (in the modern sense of these words) in Ice Age cave art is discussed as is Eshleman's general poetic. A number of books by the poet are discussed or mentioned in passing: e.g. Juniper Fuse, Companion Spider, Archaic Design, etc.

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Published by: Ian Irvine (Hobson) on Jun 20, 2013
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10/01/2013

 
 
Island Twenty-Seven
 – 
Translatingthe Dancing Sorcerer
(Extract from:
 
Muse of the Long Haul Thirty-One Isles of the Creative Imagination 
)
Copyright
, Dr Ian Irvine, 2013 allrights reserved. All short extractsfrom the texts discussed areacknowledged and used under fair 
usage related to ‘review’ andtheoretical ‘critique’
contained ininternational copyright law.
 
Cover image
:
‘Sketch of the Dancing Sorcerer’
From the Trois-Frères Sanctuary.Sketch by Clottes, J y Lewis-Williams
from Breuil’s origin
al of the 1920s. The image is in the public domain being a faithfulreproduction of an image 15,000years plus old.
 Publisher
: Mercurius Press,Australia, 2013. NB: This piece is published at Scribd as part of aseries drawn from the soon to be print published non-fiction book onexperiential poetics entitled:
 Museof the Long Haul: Thirty-One Islesof the Creative Imagination.
 
 
Island Twenty-Seven
 – 
Translating the Dancing Sorcerer
I first came across Clayton Esh
leman’s poetry in late 1983 whilst
attending university inAuckland, New Zealand. I
’d
bought a copy of 
 Hades in Manganese
from a city bookshop andhad read it closely. I became
fascinated by Eshleman’s
poetic explorations of modern lifethrough Paleolithic cave art and intuitively perceived that he had somehow exposed the pre-historic foundations to our collective psychic life
 — 
likewise, the pre-history to an array of 
mythologies I’d
 been interested in for a couple of years (after reading
Robert Graves’s book 
TheWhite Goddess
).
Graves’s book had proposed a pre
-
 patriarchal theory of ‘Origins’ (
leading to anarchaic theory of creativity) that I found useful, but here was a poet
 pushing the ‘
 back wall
 
(Eshleman’s terminology)
of the human imagination back tens of thousands of years further intothe past.This historic depth to his poetry struck me as immense, and I understood intuitively thathe was espousing an anti-oppressive, internationalist and visionary poetics vast in scope. His poetics merges 20
th
century
avant garde
innovations with a truly original archaic poetics that has parallels with many traditions world-wide
 — 
stretching back, I have no doubt, many millennia inhuman history. The movements he is usually linked to in the critical literature are the
‘Ethnopoetics’ group (
launched by Jerome Rothenberg)
1
and the early Deep Imagist poets
(influenced by Jungian thinking). Other sources point to Bakhtin’s
work 
 — 
especially his
theorizing on ‘grotesque realism— 
as an influence (which Eshleman acknowledges). We alsonote the influence of specific poets
 — 
 poets he often ended up translating, e.g. Neruda andVallejo.The trans-historic themes I found in
 Hades
were counterbalanced by an extraordinary
 poetics of the interior 
that spoke directly to my own inner world at that time. Recall (fromearlie
r chapters of this book) that by late 1983 I’d read most of the major texts by Wilhelm
Reich, Arthur Janov and Alexander Lowen and was starting to feel a need to undergo some kind
of psychophysical ‘cleansing’
through commitment to one of those modalities. Eshleman (I onlyfound out much later) was interested in Reich
s work 
 — 
indeed he had undergone Reichiantherapy in the late 1960s whilst living in New York and felt it had fuelled his poetic awakening.There is an intensity, psychological honesty and physicality to these modalities that is oftentransferred to clients through the therapeutic process. I suspect that
in Eshleman’s case some of that ‘energy charge’
was also transferred to his poetry, which I, in turn, picked up on as a reader  back in 1983.I also found his poetry to be
‘formally’ inspirational.
 Hades in Manganese
made merealize I needed to develop a contemporary poetic
‘voice’
capable of exploring the kind of themes I was interested in. The poems in
 Hades
enact a complex fusion of modernist free verse
innovations, archaic visionary motifs and postmodernist ‘docu
-
 praxis’ techniques (e.g.
combining poetry with archeological insights
 — 
which is also found in
 Juniper Fuse
, his seminal
1
 
In an essay for a book edited by Charles Bernstein,
The Politics of Poetic Form
, Rothenberg writes:Ethnopoetics
 – 
my coinage, in a fairly obvious way, circa 1967
 – 
refers to an attempt toinvestigate on a transcultural scale the range of possible poetries that had not only been imagined but put into practice by other human beings. It was premised on the perception that westerndefinitions of poetry and art were no longer, indeed had never been, sufficient and that our continued reliance on them was distorting our view both of the larger human experience and of our own possibilities within it.
 
work on cave art and pre-historic image making). This approach made me feel that I might beable to explore transpersonal and trans-historic material in a contemporary language not that far removed from the minimalism I admired in
William Carlos Williams’s ‘Objectivist poetics’. I
recall wanting to avoid the breathy emotiveness of Ginsberg and Whitman, as well as the ornateformalism of 19
th
century Romantics and Symbolists.Eshleman
s work re-entered my life in late 2005 after I sent him some poems to look at with aview to
 possible publication. He emailed me to say he’d read and enjoyed the po
ems but couldnot publish them since he was no longer editing
Sulfur 
or any literary journal. So began an emailexchange that traversed many topics. I immediately felt a need to acquaint myself with the large body
of work he’d had published since
 Hades in Manganese
. Although I had little spare timeduring the first few years of our exchange
 — 
due to parenting and work commitments (Caleb had been born in 2003 and Kara was still in pre-school)
 — 
I read as much of his new work as I couldget my hands on:
 Hotel Cro-Magnon
(1989),
 From Scratch
(1998),
 Juniper Fuse
(2003),
Companion Spider 
(2005) and
 An Alchemist with One Eye on the Fire
(2006). I also acquired
 Archaic Design
(2007) and
The Grindstone of Rapport 
(2008) as soon as they were available.Inevitably I encountered many new dimensions to his work as a con sequence. His poetryfrom the 1980s on reveals a complex methodology
 — 
often influenced by his long-term interest inEuropean cave art. His master text on the topic, over thirty years in the making and featuring both poetry and prose, is
 Juniper Fuse: Upper Paleolithic Imagination and the Construction of the Underworld 
(finally published in 2003). The methodology of 
 Juniper 
involves: 1) repeatedvisits to relevant Ice Age caves; 2) vast academic research, particularly in the field of archaeology, and 3) an attempt to interpret the cave art in poetic (rather than scientific) ways thatamounts
to an ‘
imaginative re-visioni
ng’
(not dissimilar to the
 proleptic thought
advocated byGraves in the 1940s). In his introduction to
 Juniper Fuse
, Eshleman writes:This book envisions and examines some of the origins and developments of imagination recorded in cave wall imagery (for the most part in southwesternFrance) during the last European Ice Age.
2
 His purpose is to take us back to the beginning of 
image making
and to expand his personal
conception of what it is to be a ‘poet
-
artist’. He writes:
 
To follow poetry back to Cro-Magnon metaphors not only hits real bedrock 
 — 
a genuine back wall
 — 
 but gains a connection to the continuum during which imagination firstflourished. My growing awareness of the caves led to the recognition that, as an artist, I belong to a pre-tradition that includes the earliest nights and days of soul-making.
3
 
 Juniper Fuse
deserves to be ranked along-side Coleri
dge’s
 Biographia Literaria
, Shelly’s
 A Defence of Poetry
, W.B. Yates’s
A Vision
 
and Robert Graves’s
The White Goddess
. It is aremarkable book 
 — 
as revolutionary, in its own way, as any of the great modernist and postmodernist poetics manifestos.Early in our email exchange we found that we had a shared interest in indigenous and archaic
2
Clayton Eshleman,
 Juniper Fuse: Upper Paleolithic Imagination and the Construction of the Underworld 
, p. x1.
3
op cite.

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