Introductions for Clayton Eshleman & Robert Kelly – 18 March 09

It’s a real pleasure for us to be able to present these two poets, these two old friends together here at the church tonight. When I asked Robert his permission to be videotaped this evening I added that Louis, our videographer, would be discreet. Robert replied “When was St. Marx ever discreet?” So it is in that spirit we present Eshleman and Kelly.

Clayton Eshleman’s most recent publications include: An Alchemist with One Eye on Fire (poems, Black Widow Press, 2006); The Complete Poetry of Cesar Vallejo (University of California Press, 2007); Reciprocal Distillations (poems, Hot Whiskey Press, 2007); Archaic Design (interviews, notes, prose poems, essays, Black Widow Press, 2007); and The Grindstone of Rapport / A Clayton Eshleman Reader (poems, prose, translations, Black Widow Press, 2008). He was the founding Editor of two influential literary journals Caterpillar and Sulfur. His The Complete Poetry of Cesar Vallejo won a Landon Translation Prize. Eshleman is retired from Eastern Michigan University and continues to live in Ypsilanti, with his wife Caryl.

It’s impossible to talk about either of the poets tonight without using superlatives. Translator, poet, essayist, editor Clayton Eshleman is one the most significant figures in contemporary poetry. I find one of the most distinctive and transgressive features of his poetry to be conveyed in the opening line of “Five Queasy Pieces” – “I want to come to terms with my vaulted / and faulty / interior, with the clocks stacked in my kidneys” – he is a poet of the body like no other in his ability to make us “realize that one is a metaphor and to be a metaphor is to be grotesque (initially of the grotto).” In a recent essay on Eshleman’s work James Pate notes that he uses unexpected images and words to re-order and re-calibrate a poem, “bringing it closer to the unrepresentable trauma of the split within the Subject itself.” Not surprisingly his interest in unconscious operations led him to study Upper Paleolithic Cave art. From this kinetic container of history, he, as Robert Kelly says, speaks on behalf of thirty thousand years of silence. Please welcome Clayton Eshleman back to the Poetry Project.

Robert Kelly, poet, essayist, and fiction writer, is the author of more than sixty books, the first, Armed Descent, was published in 1961. Most recent books are Lapis (Black Sparrow Press, 2005), Threads (First Intensity Press, 2006) and May Day (Parsifal Editions, 2006). Born and bred in Brooklyn, he moved up the river over 4 decades ago, to Annandale-on-Hudson, where he has taught at Bard College ever since.

Robert Kelly is certainly one of the most prolific writers of our time. He is also among our greatest questioners, our greatest listeners. His proposal “that every language is a second language, language itself is a second language” points to his attention to activity in the fissure. His maxim “write everything” has given us an extraordinary account of the complicated sometimes contradictory truth of one’s desire in language, where “everything has meaning / and nothing makes sense.” Guy Davenport wrote in Vort 5, an issue dedicated to Kelly’s work: “He has the Chinese sense of bringing diverse things together into a stark- symbol, and is happiest when he himself can’t quite see the meaning of the sign he’s made. Thus his poems are mysteries to be pondered, something to dream on rather than to puzzle out.” Birds, particularly in the collection Lapis, are psychic couriers, articulate Others unburdened by names, weavers and conspirators in the effort to “liberate the opposite in things.” Please welcome Robert Kelly back to the Poetry Project.

-Stacy Szymaszek