Friday, February 01, 2013
In The Guardian, Patrick McGuinness on American poet Edward Dorn.
Gunslinger is perhaps the strangest long poem of the last half-century: a quest myth wrapped around an acid-inspired western comic strip adventure in which a gunslinger, astride a drug-taking, talking horse called Levi-Strauss, searches for Howard Hughes ("they say he moved to Vegas / or bought Vegas and / moved it. / I can't remember which"). Charles Olson had insisted, in the wake of Pound, that where Europe had history to make poetry with, America must take geography. Dorn's contribution to the Great American Long Poem – Pound's Cantos, WC Williams's Paterson, Olson's Maximus … – was Gunslinger, which appeared in five sections over six years. The American west was Dorn's imaginative home, and his poem is an extraordinary feat of imagination, humour, allusion and lyric invention. It takes the standard fare of a good if surreal western (brothel madams, saloon brawls and gunfights) and melds it with high philosophical riffs.
Here is the narrator congratulating the gunslinger on the speed of his draw: "You make the air dark / with the beauty of your speed, / Gunslinger, the air / separates and reunites as if lightning / had cut past / leaving behind a simple experience." The Slinger's reply is a fusion of Heidegger ("Digger", as in "Hey, Digger!" is one of the stoned horse's nicknames) and Clint Eastwood as The Man with No Name. Names are important in this poem, though not as important as having no name – as the Slinger says: "it is dangerous to be named / and makes you mortal".
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