Thursday, May 15, 2008

A page for Paul Blackburn

The Electronic Poetry Center (EPC), an online resource for information and works of major contemporary American poets based at Suny at Buffalo NY, has gone live with a page for Paul Blackburn. He was an amazing poet who could parse the spoken idiom and make it sing with a unique tone and personality better than any poet since W.C.Williams, and he could insert the most subtle of philosophical paradox and shifting viewpoints with writing that seemed off hand,an effortless expression.The seeming ease of line indicates the attuned ear, the steady pen, the economy of a master who could arrange his blocks of language, position the line breaks, compose the length of the line to a rhythmic sense that doesn't escape you as you read his work. If there was anyone who understood and achieved great effects of Williams' theory of the variable foot, Blackburn was that poet. There was always an electric current in his best poems, the thrill of the mind racing while the body is charged with energy, excitement.


Long ago and far away

and the swimmer
heading out into the bay
arm lift, plunge down, the head turning;
my heart you may swim forever
out. Look,

there is the horizon
Sea and sky meet, change; why
are we not this real intensity forever?
surrounded and known.
The world else is brown and calculated.

There on the beach, the
woman watches.
Between her legs the dog sits,
wiggling, wanting to go
too. It is a kind of death watching him swim out,
away from her, his head getting smaller and smaller, flash
of arm in sun, down,
distant churn of water between the small waves. She
holds the dog's two haunches in her hands.

He is hardly to be restrained, and love
is manifest, is felt from the two of them

The swimmer is himself.

There was a large world his eyes beheld, and he had the skill to get his perceptions in tuned with a personality framed the ironies and contradictory impulses in that odd space our language skills that allows us to hover over our own views, ambivalence and ambiguity. Not that Blackburn himself was distanced from his subjects; rather, his poems, his finest work, integrated his ideas with the terrains and the personalities within them. Please go to the page and read the wonderful poem above with the line breaks intact. Click also on well on the links for splendid Blackburn commentaries by Jerome Rothenberg, Robert Creeley, Robert Kelly among several other notable poets and commentators.

Thank you the folks at EPC for their work, and to Ron Silliman's blog for the link.


  1. Anonymous9:02 AM PDT

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  2. Anonymous2:10 PM PDT

    I wonder if anyone reading this poem would seek out more of Blackburn's work. For me it's too studied, a fairly pedestrian attempt at allegory. The language at its best ("distant churn of water between the small waves") is very fine but at its worst ("my heart you may swim forever / out", "The swimmer is himself", etc.) is flat and pseudo profound. These dueling qualities make Blackburn one of the more frustrating poets to read, because with a few exceptions they result in poems that don't cohere. Most of his poems, in fact, read like undigested notes toward poems, and all the poet's skill with line endings and jazzy sound effects can't make them more than they are. One only has to read Blackburn beside certain of his contemporaries—, , —to hear and feel the difference. From my perspective, Blackburn's best work lies in his fine translations: his troubadour anthology Proensa is magnificent, as are his translations of Lorca and Cortázar. Maybe the givenness of the original work, its substantiality and coherence, provided what Blackburn's sensibility could not provide for his own writing.


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