Posts Tagged ‘Clayton Eshleman


Yesterday and Today Arrive in Chalk Song

A version of this review (and a better edited version) may appear in a future issue of Redactions: Poetry & Poetics.


Chalk SongChalk Song (Lily Poetry Review Books) is the first book of poetry that I have encountered with a triumvirate of authors – Gale Batchelder, Susan Berger-Jones, and Judson Evans. It’s quite a feat to compose poems with three minds swirling together, especially when I consider all the times I tried to write something by committee and that almost always led to over-simplification, compromises, and confusing text. These authors, however, have succeeded in following the advice of Robert Creeley, “Our approach was guided by Robert Creeley’s collaborations with visual artists, of which he said, ‘if collaboration is to be at all successful, it must be the result of different individuals . . . working together to make something that is larger than sensibility’” (ix). These three authors found a voice who speaks of and to the Paleolithic era, its art and artists, and to today’s eight-plus billion humans.

The concept of this collection of poems was inspired by Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams, which is documentary that explores the Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc Cave in southern France that contains some of the oldest known cave paintings in the world, dating back to over 30,000 years ago and maybe even 50,000 years ago. In the documentary, Herzog used 3D cameras to capture stunning images of paintings and sculptures. In doing so, he muses on the nature of human creativity and humanity’s connection to the past.

As I entered Chalk Song, I expected, based on the above information, investigations similar to Clayton Eshleman’s many poetry books on Paleolithic art which often through dream imagery examine the Paleolithic art and artists and the roots of human consciousness, or my collection of poems on Paleolithic art and culture that examines paleolithic art and artists to not only understand them but to better understand ourselves today. The poems in Chalk Song achieve both those ends, but they don’t feel obligated to remain situated in the Paleolithic era. It’s as if their book is a wormhole that not only connects today to the Paleolithic era, but it allows information to move back and forth For instance, there are references to x-rays, shepherds, cameras, cities, a Swiss Army knife, GPS, fortune cookies, etc. More specifically, here are the opening the second and third stanzas and closing stanza of “Codex Collapse Syndrome” (19):

Everything is early, spry with milt, the delicate climate

of arrival, draughts of air so narrow our ears fold back

their sounds. Comb over psalms smelt muzzles

from the overlap of horse heads. Music can’t

caress itself by these long-playing lassoes


Contour before line, overtones before the molten bell

of an opening. We are sphinx-cubs in our hiding places.

The sky on our skin still unhewn,

our scribbled brochures of lighting.


. . .


Anyone can draw a blue bead

on the G.P.S.  forking river for the vector

home, or carve a new nipple


Here, the speaker is navigating in and between two times and comparing methods of mapping. Or later in “Confetti Score” (25), where the speaker is talking to and asking a Paleolithic artist questions like, “If you hands had drawn me, would I have been marooned?” While still in the past, “Someone sneezes” and her (the speaker’s) “heather is cloned.” Then all of the sudden, she see “glyph structures . . . on the Internet.” The past has not only travelled through time, but it has been cloned and digitized and reality becomes blended like “computer strings [hanging] from elms.”

Throughout the collection, the poems, stanzas, and even lines at times behave like the paintings on a Paleolithic cave wall. The paintings in the same cave or even on the same cave wall do not appear to be related or have a narrative flow between them, but they are connected by artists’ visions and by a viewer trying to make meaning of and from them, much like Herzog’s documentary. When combined into the figurative cave of Chalk Song, the poems of three individuals create questions and meanings of our origins and where we are today, which is a place still deeply connected to 50,000 years ago. In essence, the poets indicate that the past is an echo of today.





Batchelder, Gale, Susan Berger-Jones, and Judson Evans. Chalk Song. Lily Poetry Review Books, 2022.





First Brief Notes on Paleopoetry

I stumbled upon this image just a moment ago.

Woman with Horn

It’s called Woman with Horn. (There may be other names, but that’s what I’m using.) I found a decent brief description of this Woman with Horn carving:

This limestone image of a female carved into the cliff wall at Laussel, in the Dordogne, in France, carries an object that perhaps is a horn, or, by virtue of its lunette shape, might evoke the moon. It dates to roughly 20,000-18,000 BCE, and seems more imposing than its mere 17 inches of height. (Nature and Society)

There’s a lot more to it than that, as I remember from studies, and I think I get to some of it in this poem, which I wrote sometime ago.

All Objects Contain History in this House
after Louis Zukofsky & W. C. Williams

The pregnant lady
on the wall,
she lived here
first. Her left arm broke.
Too brittle
we assume.
We feel sorrow
for her
fingers reach
only inches
above her navel.
No farther. A bit longer
is her right arm
& strong.
She stands with her elbow cocked
as if to throw
the crescent moon
to the end of the year.
We can tell.
She looks
forward with the stone stance
of determined aim,
the crescent has thirteen scratches
made with intent
& a blade.
The marks obviously
are for the passing year’s
every new moon.
Her expectant face
though is blank. Not without
totally but flat
as the wall.
We barely
notice her breasts
to her wrist
& stretch marks.
Her right nipple
also has broken off,
we can’t explain that,
but we can understand
why she wants to throw
away the past.

I started that poem in October 2003 and finished it on April 27, 2007. It now appears in Poems for an Empty Church (Palettes & Quills Press, 2011). If you like that poem, you’ll love the book because the other poems in it are even stronger.

I wanted to share that poem tonight for two reasons. One, I had forgotten about the above sculpture for a long time, and when I saw it, I remembered I wrote a poem about it. So there it is. Two, this is an early attempt at what my friend (Christine Noble) and I are calling Paleopoetry. Clayton Eshleman got there first, and he’s the man, but we are doing it differently. Except for this poem, I think the neo-Paleopoetry (where Eshleman is Paleopoetry) is more imaginative in the direction of the human spirit and soul at the time those Paleolithic artists existed. This neo-Paleopoetry likes to branch out into everything we can find and imagine and that made us human and how we became human. It about how we came to invent things like dolls and burial and cooking. And how the invention then turned back on the inventor and the spiraled outward to humanity and culture and fear and death and love and metaphors and sex and . . . . What it’s really about is living and the beginnings of living and the beginnings of the creative processes and imagination. The above poem isn’t really like that, or not much, but these new ones my friend and I are writing are. Maybe I’ll share some more as time goes by.

Additionally, Paleopoetry is also good place to also continue my explorations into investigative poetry. If I can study the Paleolithic era with enough integrity and write about it well enough, then the Paleolithic era will connect all people at all times. It will become a lense through which I see life and the universe and that I hope others will use to do the same.

I hope to have more detailed thoughts on this as I progress. I just wanted to get those first thoughts out there so I can remember to think about it and come back to it.//

The Cave (Winner of The Bitter Oleander Press Library of Poetry Book Award for 2013.)

The Cave

Material Matters

Poems for an Empty Church

Poems for an Empty Church

The Oldest Stone in the World

The Oldest Stone in the Wolrd

Henri, Sophie, & The Hieratic Head of Ezra Pound: Poems Blasted from the Vortex

Henri, Sophie, & The Hieratic Head of Ezra Pound: Poems Blasted from the Vortex

Pre-Dew Poems

Pre-Dew Poems

Negative Time

Negative Time

After Malagueña

After Malagueña

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