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Clayton Eshleman

1935–

Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, on June 1, 1935, Clayton Eshleman earned a BA in philosophy and an MA in creative writing, both from Indiana University. He is the author of more than thirty books, and his collections of poetry include Reciprocal Distillations (Hot Whiskey Press, 2007), Archaic Design (Black Widow Press, 2007), and An Alchemist with One Eye on Fire (Black Widow Press, 2006).

He has also published books of essays, prose, and interviews, including Companion Spider (Wesleyan University Press, 2002), Antiphonal Swing: Selected Prose, 1962-1987 (McPherson & Co., 1989) and Novices: A Study of Poetic Apprenticeship (Arundel Press, 1989).

From 1967 to 2000, Eshleman founded and edited two of the most seminal and highly-regarded literary magazines of the period. Twenty issues of Caterpillar appeared between 1967 and 1973. Selections from the magazine were collected as A Caterpillar Anthology (1971). In 1981, while Dreyfuss Poet in Residence at the California Institute of Technology, Eshleman founded Sulfur magazine. The forty-sixth and final issue of Sulfur, which received thirteen National Endowment for the Arts grants, was published in 2000, and The Sulfur Anthology, edited by Eshleman, was published in 2016 (Wesleyan University Press).

From 1979 to 1986, Eshleman was a regular reviewer for the Los Angeles Times Book Review, contributing fifty-one articles on books by AshberyBishopMilosz, Montale, Olson, RilkeWhitman, and many others.

He has also been a full-time translator since the early 1960s. He is the main American translator of César Vallejo (with José Rubia Barcia) and of Aimé Césaire (with Annette Smith). He received the National Book Award in 1979 for his co-translation of César Vallejo's Complete Posthumous Poetry (University of California Press, 1980), and his translation of Vallejo's Trilce (Wesleyan University Press, 2000) was co-winner of the Academy of American Poets' 2001 Harold Morton Landon Translation Award. Eshleman has also translated books by Antonin Artaud, Bernard Bador, Michel Deguy, Vladimir Holan, and Pablo Neruda. With Gyula Kodolanyi, he edited and translated a book-length selection of post-World War II Hungarian poetry, which appeared in Sulfur 21.

Eshleman's awards and honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship, several fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, and several research fellowships from Eastern Michigan University. He is a professor emeritus at Eastern Michigan University, and he lives in Ypsilanti, Michigan.


A Selected Bibliography

Poetry
Archaic Design (Black Widow Press, 2007)
Reciprocal Distillations (Hot Whiskey Press, 2007)
An Alchemist with One Eye on Fire (Black Widow Press, 2006)
My Devotion: New Poems (Black Sparrow Press, 2004)
From Scratch (Black Sparrow Press, 1998)
Under World Arrest (Black Sparrow Press, 1994)
Hotel Cro-Magnon (Black Sparrow Press, 1989)
The Name Encanyoned River: Selected Poems 1960-1985 (Black Sparrow Press, 1986)
Fracture (Black Sparrow Press, 1983)
The Gull Wall (Black Sparrow Press, 1975)
Coils (Black Sparrow Press, 1973)
Indiana (Black Sparrow Press, 1969)
Cantaloups and Splendour (Black Sparrow Press, 1968)

Prose
Companion Spider (Wesleyan University Press, 2002)
Antiphonal Swing: Selected Prose, 1962-1987 (McPherson & Co., 1989)
Novices: A Study of Poetic Apprenticeship (Arundel Press, 1989)

Translation
The Complete Poetry of César Vallejo (University of California Press, 2007)
Notebook of a Return to the Native Land by Aimé Césaire (Wesleyan University Press, 2001)
Trilce by César Vallejo (Wesleyan University Press, 2000)
The Collected Poetry by Aimé Césaire (University of California Press, 1984)

 

By This Poet

4

Silence Raving

Patters, paters, Apollo globes, sound 
breaking up with silence, coals 
I can still hear, entanglement of sense pools, 
the way a cave might leak perfume--

in the Cro-Magnons went, along its wet hide walls, 
as if a flower in, way in, drew their leggy 
panspermatic bodies, spidering over 
bottomless hunches, groping toward Persephone's fate:
to be quicksanded by the fungus pulp of Hades' purple hair 
  exploding in their brains.

They poured their foreheads into the coals and corrals 
zigzagged about in the night air--
        the animals led in crossed 
a massive vulva incised before the gate,
the power that came up from it was paradise, the power 
the Cro-Magnons bequeathed to us:
to make an altar of our throats.

The first words were mixed with animal fat, 
wounded men tried to say who did it.
The group was the rim of a to-be-invented wheel, 
their speech was spokes, looping over, 
around, the hub of the fire, its silk of us, 
its burn of them, bop we dip, you dip, 
we dip to you, you will dip to us, Dionysus 
the plopping, pooling words, stirred
by the lyre gaps between the peaks of flame, 
water to fire, us to them.

Foal-eyes, rubbery, they looped
back into those caves whose walls could be strung
between their teeth, the sticky soul material pulled to
The sides by their hands, ooh
what bone looms they sewed themselves into, ah 
what tiny male spiders they were
on the enormous capable of devouring them 
female rock elastic word!

Dot

Unicellular sac pressed 
fingertips,

two dots, a me 
row--or a herow? a meandering 
red moist

blastospore, a multicellular 
dot-filled wall, 
lubricious prefiguration of Hermes
who swings with

heat of the amoeba need
soldered to sprout

desire, an earthworm psyche 
spiderline, tunneling on the leash of the 
to-be-peristaltic

boundary seeking

something to curve 
about, zigzag, 
bear claw hut rain, 
diagrammatic boogie-woogie of Hermes
flowing in the boundary catastrophe 
when the animal was separated out

     *

Dot,  doorbell
Summoning Hades through stone.

Placements I: "The New Wilderness"

for Jerome Rothenberg
 

Anguish, a door, Le Portel, the body bent over jagged rock, 
in ooze, crawling in darkness to trace the button of itself
--or to unbutton the obscure cage in which a person and an 
animal are copulas--or are they delynxing each other? Or 
are they already subject and predicate in the amniotic cave 
air watching each other across the word barrier, the flesh?

                              *

At arm's length the image, my focus the extent of my reach. 
Where I end the other begins. And is not all art which gen-
uinely moves us done in the "dark" against a "wall"? Olson's 
whisper (a prayer), "(boundary
            Disappear."

                              *

Artaud's hatred of depth near the end of his life. All real 
action, he ranted, was at surface. Beyond? Nothing. Below 
and above? Nothing. At the same time he desired to be or-
ganless, eternal. James Hiliman writes: "Every rebirth fan-
tasy in psychology may be a defense against depth." If com-
ing up out of the cave of night can mean an openness to know-
ing we've never left the cave, then rebirth ceases to be an-
tagonistic to depth.

                              *

The beginning of the construction of the underworld takes
place in Upper Paleolithic caves. To identify this "place
under construction," I use the later Greek word "Hades,"
and it is there that the first evidence of psyche we can 
relate to occurs. To be in the cave is to be inside an an-
imal--a womb--but to draw there is to seek another kind of
birth; an adjustment to the crisis of the animal separat-
ing out of the human--or, the Fall. To be inside, to be 
hidden, to be in Hades--where the human hides in the animal.

                              *

Semi-conscious scanning through the lich gate. Wandering 
the winding windows of images. Knowing that as we see through, 
we only at best see into dream to touch the cave wall socket 
in which the current is called animal. Its adamant muzzle 
confers moisture on my deathly palm.

                              *

Since the hidden is bottomless, totality is more invisible 
than visible. Insistence on a totality in which life is tot-
ally visible, is the anti-dream, Hades deprived of his cave, 
Satan attempting to establish a kingdom--or death camp--
solely on earth.

                              *

As species disappear, the Upper Paleolithic grows more vivid. 
As living animals disappear, the first outlines become more 
dear, not as reflections of a day world, but as the primal
outlines of psyche, the shaping of the underworld, the point 
at which Hades was an animal. The "new wilderness" is thus 
the spectral realm created by the going out of animal life
and the coming in, in our time, of these primary outlines.
Our tragedy is to search further and further back for a
common non-racial trunk in which the animal is not separated
out of the human, while we destroy the turf on which we
actually stand.