Wednesday, January 30, 2008

"Lying Face Down in a Pool of Aesthetics"/Daniel Bourne's Where No One Spoke the Language

Last year, I had the pleasure of inviting Daniel Bourne, poet, translator and editor of Artful Dodge, to give a reading at John Carroll University. His recent book, Where No One Spoke the Language, felt like reading a doppleganger--since his poems are suffused with the bitter and fragrant tea of his years living in another Eastern European country (Poland) in the last throes of communist rule. Of his book, William Heyen wrote:
The desire to buy a birthday card for a dead father. Our life on Doberman streets. Gas hogs stuck in the hot tar of used car lots. Our hope to protect the carp between our legs. Kites in anemic wind. A sense that we are all already dead. 'A bouquet of matches / black on their greasy stalks.' Blood on our door post. Sensing 'the swarm of hands inside / a Holocaust monument." The son of man drunk and stumbling home. Our words unable to clear customs. Hearing the vowels of ghosts. Not the cocoon, but the shroud. Dead languages seeming more moral than living ones. The Vistula's last perch. Wallpaper dark from the leak upstairs. 'A music dwindling, / disappearing for always.' What Daniel Bourne has done here is something I haven’t heard done yet—-Charles Simic’s surreal mode grounded, but with his knowledge of Eastern Europe. Remarkable and relentless, Where No One Spoke the Language achieves a voice of exile deeper than any I've heard from an American Poet since The Waste Land, but I am comforted that Bourne knows, and is among us. And as for the snob who sniffs 'oh--a political poem': the poet says, 'I'm sure some dawn his body / will be discovered lying face down / in a spreading pool of aesthetics. ...'"--William Heyen

Bourne's poems travel many landscapes, but as Heyen suggests, they are neither touristic nor at home in any of them. He's restless but not ungrounded, doggedly incapable of the flights of fancy that other poets allow themselves. It's almost as if he's seen too much not to stay with and state the world as he's witnessed it. Those final lines that Heyen quotes are from "In Cambodia We're Already Dead":
I once knew a man who sniffed
"oh--a political poem" as it had a terminal disease
or something equally common and disgusting but we all
have a hidden talent for dying and I'm sure some dawn his body
will be discovered lying face down
in a pool of aesthetics

In a time when it's au courant to dismiss the political, or to avoid it as aesthetic messiness, Bourne confronts himself and this fussy poet with the darker aspects of political life.
Small Arms

Another patrol
sidewinding the desert,
the small gravel

kicked up by their feet,
the dust in their noses
as the young men

shoulder their weapons
so light
they do not think of the village

before them, the women
besieged by small children
as they draw water from a well—

the goat
working its busy lips
behind one rock and another—

until one piece of dirt
is kicked up. And then
another. The small

mark of each bullet
on the first woman’s arm.
Her small mouth.

Its even
smaller cry.

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