30 December 2002

Addendum: Dorn

Probably one of the reasons I'm attracted to the figure of Dorn as poet is that he comes from the middle regions of the USA, and not from an urban area, and for the most part of his life he did not live in major urban areas. Coming from Oklahoma, spending just a few college years in the Bay Area, then living in Oklahoma (Norman), Wisconsin (Madison), Arizona (Tucson), Minnesota (Minneapolis), and again Tucson, I share that sense of difference from what still seems to be a more common experience of poets, either to come from urban places or to go to such places (primarily New York or San Francisco) at a fairly young age and stay there. Of course, academic job hunting is changing that to some extent, and a general sense that one can do one's cultural work anywhere is changing that (the internet helps as well), too, yet still it seems that poets who primarily stay away from a very few urban centers are the exception. Dorn also the exception in his economic circumstances, his family history considerably less than middle class, and a big part of his own early working history that of a migrant laborer in various northwestern places. My own family history is of poor farmers in western Oklahoma who mostly escaped that life in my parents' generation by becoming teachers and/or joining the military, but most of whom did not leave Oklahoma for long periods of time.

Dorn's attitudes about poetry, though in part received from Charles Olson and others at Black Mountain, are still largely his own and escape the tendencies of the academy and of urban cultural practitioners to privelege art over life, theory over experience, and the imaginary over the actual (not that Dorn isn't aware that every one of those terms is highly problematic). Still, there was a comment on the Poetics list-serve from Buffalo recently that implied, for graduate students, that "knowing squat" was pretty much the same thing as not knowing "theory." I wanted to laugh out loud at the notion that knowing theory made anyone more intelligent than not knowing theory. That's like saying knowing how the camera lens works is more important than knowing the subject of the photograph. Or that knowing the complications of interpreting one's relationship to the world is more important than knowledge of the world -- and I say this knowing full well that taken to its extreme, privileging direct experience over knowledge of theory can also be naive and problematic -- but privileging theory in such an unconsidered way just strikes me as ludicrous. A particular lunacy that is not shared by Dorn in what he calls "the geography of my lunacy."