There are so many good books that are just published quietly into obscurity. Among them is Alexander Taylor's Dreaming at the Gates of Fury: New and Selected Poems
, published earlier this year by Washington, DC-based Azul Editions.
Dreaming at the Gates of Fury is a remarkable book in many ways. First, it's filled to the brim with breathtaking love poems. Secondly, those love poems are irretrievably wedded to a poetry of engagement, a poetry of social conscience. Thirdly, these poems are the life work of one of the founding editors of one of the premier independent publishers in the country today, Curbstone Press. Curbstone, under Taylor's aegis, has long championed the voices of people who take seriously the necessity of welding exquisite literature to social struggles, something that Azul does as well.
And so we have this book.
Taylor's work is fierce and vivid, raising serious questions, and posing serious answers, all delivered in image after startling image. It is, at its best, reminiscent of Pablo Neruda or Nazim Hikmet or Roque Dalton, and its fire is tempered with a compassion that brings it right down into the heart of the reader.
Overheard among the Guerrillas
Between the bursts of shellfire
we could see the stars pulsing quietly,
stretching far away.
Between explosion and echo
"What a beautiful night!" ?
her wrists platinum fish
in the moonlight, her hair
flowing over thin shoulders.
A distant flash lit up
the crooked buildings of the city
and one flaming star
plunged to earth.
It was a beautiful night,
a night of light and shadow,
the night I was struck by
the dazzle of her teeth and eyes
when she smiled and took up her rifle.
We followed her up the path
that smelled of evergreen and roses.
There are lots of other juicy books from Azul as well, including work by Neruda and Dalton and Erich Fried. All of these books are printed in limited editions, and they're both lovely and affordable. (Stay tuned in the New Year for an interview with Azul's founder and editorial director, Richard Schaaf).
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A different kind of engagement marks the work of surrealist-influenced poet Clayton Eshleman. In his new book, An Alchemist with One Eye on Fire, Eshleman's roots are transparent ? Breton, Artaud, Rimbaud, Vallejo, etc. This is a weird and beautiful book, always visionary, and always exploring the furthest territories of the imagination, the whole work calculated to throw you off the narrow precipice that stands for sanity and the everyday in your life and into a new level of consciousness, one where, for however short the time may be, the mind roams free.
(Another good book by Clayton Eshleman that came out in 2006 is Conductors of the Pit. It's an anthology of his translations, and includes Aime Cesaire, Sandor Csoori, Artaud, and many other luminaries of the bizarre of the past two centuries).
Often, the poems in An Alchemist with One Eye on Fire are obliquely political; always they demand close attention, and result in immediate intoxication and gratitude on the part of the reader.
Take this from "Nora's Transmission":
How might I wear you?
As aura, blue larva light
encindered with eyes of the void,
your once precious warmth my cobra shadow,
your mechanic's hand that supped from phalluses,
imbuing your art with man's roan girderwork,
his moray quarrel and hypomania ?
or do I bear you in the hyena graveyard
aslant in my dreams, are you
a kind of Kali, tossing
your laughing head from hand to hand?
"Aslant in my dreams," what a perfect description of the impact Eshleman's verse has on its readers.