Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Clayton Eshleman

Clayton Eshleman was born in 1935 in Indianapolis, Indiana, and earned degrees in philosophy and creative writing from Indiana University. After graduation he started travelling extensively, living for several years in Japan and spending time in Mexico. He also frequently travelled to France and his visits to the Dordogne region of France have significantly shaped his poetics. The experience of the Lascaux, Combarelle and Trois Freres caves and their prehistoric paintings led him to adopt a particular mix of myth, psychology, archeology, and surrealism in his poetry.

In World Literature Today Susan Smith Nash says of Eshleman’s work:

“Eshleman’s poems possess a heavy reliance on juxtaposition and the belief that an essential truth may emerge from the dionysiac combining of art, anthropology, poetry, and historical events.” 

In addition to his creative work as a poet, Eshleman is also the main American translator of the Peruvian C├ęsar Vallejo, and he received the National Book Award in 1979 for his co-translation of Vallejo’s Complete Posthumous Poetry.

The author of more than thirty books, he as published not only numerous collections of poetry but also books of essays, prose and interviews. Eshleman also founded and edited two important literary magazines: Caterpillar which appeared between 1967 and 1973 and Sulfur (1981-2000), which received thirteen National Endowment for the Arts grants.

Today, Eshleman is a professor of English at Eastern Michigan University, and lives in Ypsilanti, Michigan.


My poem below took its inspiration from Eshleman’s “Note on a Visit to Le Tuc d’Audoubert”. His poetry which weaves together past and present, site and imagination, image and text reminded me of my own 2013 project A Westminster Pilgrim and made me once again consider the connections between architectural sites and their building materials, their past and their present use.

~ - ~

old red sandstone
a thick sequence of rocks in squares around me                  i am
formed more than 350 million years old                       a migrant
the earth’s teenage years maybe                   like this rock i have
built my house from it                     travelled here from far away
and many others all               come to rest now thick deposits of
the way to                        sand and mud 11000 meters deep and
america.                    often stained with red, slowly accumulated.
                                                                                     thrust fault

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