We are unable to display your institutional affiliation without JavaScript turned on.
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Find using OpenURL

Exquisite Disdain

From: American Book Review
Volume 34, Number 2, January/February 2013
pp. 20-21 | 10.1353/abr.2013.0002

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Tough and chiseled, Ed Dorn’s poems are emblematic of his own features. It’s fitting that artist Philip Behymer’s portrait adorns the cover of his Collected Poems. There’s a surface density to the language in Dorn’s work found alongside a grimness of outlook which matches up well with his visage: the John Donne of his time, as poet Charles Olson refers to him in an early letter. Dorn is a truly original postmodern artist, with nothing but distaste for the term. Yet his poetry bears many telltale hallmark signifiers of postmodernism: meta-narratives, many-centered identities of the speaking voice, a nascent embrace of hybridity in terms of writing forms, including but not limited to journalistic, historical, slapstick, and stoic, which he is found to be ever expanding upon and maturing in style. His work exudes evidence of what were for him necessary self-inventions that are made evident in a series of distinct stylistic transitions. Throughout these changes, Dorn’s austere intellect and careful concern for evading any hint of lulling pretension assures a clear tone of disdain for false affectation remains heavily evident.

The agony is beauty
that you can’t have that
and sense too. There
is no sense to beauty. It offends
everyone, the more so
in ratio to the praise of it.
And I’ve known this for a long
time, there has been no
great necessity to say it. How
really, the world is shit
and I mean all of it

Dorn’s acidic aversion for many points of view commonly shared by large portions of society brightly shines forth in his poems, providing a continually updated and unflinching assessment of his take on the shifting state of things from the 1950s on up through the 1990s. Dorn’s fellow poet and peer, Amiri Baraka, acknowledges in his afterword that he holds Dorn’s poetry in rare high regard not only for “its faultless craft, but also his piercing understanding of where him was and who him are. His understanding and overstanding too of just where we all were heading, moving out of the twentieth century.” To bear the burden of sight as transmitted through the lens of Dorn’s poetry is an experience that’s ruffled and bruised many readers, notably poet and critic Ron Silliman, among others. But as Baraka says in his memorial poem, “Ed Dorn”: “I dug Ed Dorn because he wd rather/Make you his enemy//Than Lie.” There is no better assessment of the perspective wherefrom Dorn’s poems emerge. Take it or leave it.

Collected Poems provides a well-rounded perspective for placing both Dorne and his work.

I’m with the Kurds and the Serbs and the Iraqis
And every defiant nation this jerk
Ethnic crazy country bombs—
World leaders can claim
What they want about terror,
As they wholesale helicopters
To the torturers—But I’m straight out
Of my tribe from my great grandma Merton
Pure Kentucky English—it would take more paper
Than I’ll ever have to express how justified I feel.

All of Dorn’s quick-moving incisive poetic work is here; nothing’s been left out. A few avid readers of Dorn will be familiar with it all, which in itself is a tremendous gift to be said of any collected poems. This considerable bulk of a book is as thorough and meticulous of a collection as would be hoped. The editing is scrupulous and deserves praise, organized chronologically with at-times surprisingly large quantities of “uncollected poems” placed between collections as published by the poet during his lifetime. Included are such hard-to-find items as Spectrum Breakdown: A Microbook (originally published in 1971 as an insert in the small press mag Athanor). And the appendix includes Bean News, an accompaniment to Dorn’s Epic poem Gunslinger (1968, 1969, 1972, 1974), which is “said to be the paper the Gunslinger read.” In addition, all prefaces, jacket notes, and introductions for individual collections are presented along with an extensive section of publication histories for tracking down appearances of individual poems that also includes copyright acknowledgement for who wrote what in the collaborative effort that produced Bean...

You must be logged in through an institution that subscribes to this journal or book to access the full text.


Shibboleth authentication is only available to registered institutions.

Project MUSE

For subscribing associations only.