Archive for December, 2012|Monthly archive page

Peter Dale Scott’s Tilting Point: “tilting at the mills of state / with a lance of paper”

Peter Dale Scott’s first full volume of poetry since Mosaic Orpheus (2009) collects ten new poems that speak from the vantage point of a lifetime and his singular interrogation of the American Empire. The first eight, short poems reflect on the eros of old age, the “drive’s decline”, a shift to “love not as acquisition but as gift”, an eros poignantly in love with living more than with any one beloved, that lifts

…once again

 

for an instant

into this abiding

awareness

of all there is

Fifty-seven of the volume’s seventy-pages are taken up by two longer works Loving America and Changing North America, the former probing the schizophrenic love-hate relationship Scott has developed over decades’ engagement with his adopted country (“the cradle of the worst and the best” as Leonard Cohen sings), the latter searching for resolutions to the country’s increasingly pathological contradictions.

The profound pertinence of Scott’s message is tuned to a style tempered to communicate it. Tellingly, at least four of the book’s poems, including many of the long poems’ sections, first appeared on “the spreading / leafwork of the Internet,” an index of Scott’s urgent desire to get the word out. His classical manner verges on the prosaic, even the pedestrian at times, guided throughout by a democratic ideal to address the widest possible audience, such as in the startling “To the Tea-Party Patriots: A Berkeley Professor says Hello!”. Often, that audience is an expressed dedicatee or interlocutor, poets or friends, including Daniel Ellsberg, Allen Ginsberg, Denise Levertov, Czeslaw Milosz, and Walt Whitman, among many others.

More ruminative readers, however, will not mistake the clear surface of Scott’s language for a shallowness of thought or knowledge. Already, for example, in the volume’s first piece “Homing:  A Winter Poem,” Scott’s simplicity belies a profound complexity of reference, the tracing of which is the richly rewarding work his writing invites:  the significance of the dedication to Tomas Tranströmer, the epigraph from Genesis, the allusions to ‘Jubal’ and ‘Urthona’ and the poet speaker’s “dead parents,” among others, coupled with the intratextual references—the “tilt of the earth” nodding to the collection’s title and the “glimpse of odyssey” that winks at the poem dedicated to Milosz “Not for long”—all point to a profound  and unending network of meaningfulness, a characteristic virtue of literary art.

For all its accomplished polish Scott’s poetry is no mere aesthetic production. His manner is chosen to address matters of the utmost consequence, the character and fate of America, a topic that has inspired him to produce more than eight volumes of painstaking investigative scholarship into the machinations and abuses of power and a monumental long poem Seculum (in three volumes, Coming to Jakarta (1988), Listening to the Candle (1992), and Minding the Darkness (2000)). It is in the book’s two long poems that Scott most firmly grasps this theme that runs throughout his life’s work, work that rises to his friend Milosz’s question “What is poetry which does not save / Nations or peoples?// A connivance with official lies…” Scott’s answer to Milosz’s demand is, in part,

… to write any poem

encompassing this nation

one must have an awareness

of gratuitous murder

committed by released felons

in uniform for sport

without forgetting the grace

of a doe drinking from a forest stream

Scott’s theme, like Whitman’s before him, has vista. The periplum of this territory his work traces and this latest book continues invites and demands our attentive study.

Tilting Point, Peter Dale Scott, San Luis Obispo:  Word Palace Press, 2012

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On the end of the Doha Climate Change Conference: a poem and commentary

Brushfires from Colorado
to Croatia; floodwaters
deeper than memory

drown southern Russia
and Thailand; tornadoes
plough the Midwest;

record hurricanes on
the Eastern Seaboard.
Humanity betrays all

the collective intelligence
of a bacterium
in a petri dish.

Although the poem above was composed in Berlin this past summer, today its sentiment seems prescient of what many of those of us who care about the fate of civilization feel. A lone voice speaks to the issue in Canada’s parliament, and in the face of suicidal official denial and incapacity, it would be barbaric not to lend a poetic voice in support. Posting a poem, of all things, must seem a futile gesture, but its impulse takes inspiration from Luther, who, asked what he would do if he knew the world were to end tomorrow answered, “Plant an apple tree.”

Tilting Point: new poetry from Peter Dale Scott

scottCoverSMPeter Dale Scott has published a new chapbook of poems Tilting Point. You can read three poems from the volume here.

Poem for Humpday

Argo Books, MontrealNeed a poetic boost to get you on through to the other side of the week? Argo Books in Montreal thinks so, too, so they were kind enough to post a poem from Ladonian Magnitudes on their website!