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BOOKS & THE CULTURE Lone Rangers BY PAUL CHRISTENSEN Selected Poems: 1950-2000 By Nathaniel Tarn Wesleyan University Press 347 pages, $19.95. Companion Spider: Essays By Clayton Eshleman Wesleyan University Press 325 pages, $19.95. s ome poets find their experience in the backyard or in their fantasies; a few go roaming abroad to discover what lies beyond their towns and the comforts of their own culture.Two such poets are Nathaniel Tarn, poet and anthropologist, traveler of the world and a pilgrim in search of strange gods, and Clayton Eshleman, a poet and translator who conducts guided tours to the Dordogne to examine the drawings of Upper Paleolithic cave culture, the first art forms in human history. Both men were associated in the late 1950s with groups attempting to liberate consciousness and to discover uses of Freud and Jung for poetry.Tarn orbited just outside the Deep Image movement, and later joined Jerome Rothenberg in what became known as Ethnopoetics, the eclectic, highly relational vision of the world’s poetry as rooted in a collective consciousness flowing below the surface of modern selfhood. That effort and Eshleman’s own to trace the evolution of art from ancient caves to the present, makes both men solitary travelers in strange lands, investigative poets trying to pick up the pieces of something that fell apart and led to the terrors and alienation of the modern age. Tarn’s long vigil at the frontiers is recorded in Selected Poems, 1950-2000, covering the most tumultuous half-century in modern history, spanning the Atomic Age, the Cold War, Vietnam, Watergate, Newt Gingrich’s revival of the Confederacy in Congress, the impeachment of Clinton, and the destruction of our imperial adventures in the near and far east. His take can be despairing at times: … and our days have died there is no energy in hand or foot the brain is dull thought starved before it comes to birth the dream locked in our minds tedium destroying all our occasions “Requiem Pro Duabus Filiis Israel” But also hopeful, … in America we now have a dreampath again, or spirit quest if you will departing every day from the mountain top “Flight from the Mountain Top” Tarn shows the ravages of an age that has continued to commit holocausts in the name of almost any political cause, giving the 50 years he has witnessed a lurid, ghoulish cast, which makes hoping for a better time difficult, if not impossible. The loose-knit lines and the unhurried pace of his language move between a lyricism of great beauty and a conversational mode that enchants with its casual reference to primitive desert life, Asian religions, birds, the totem of his poetry, Amerindian lore, and favorite cities, especially the old Russian capital of St. Petersburg. Tarn is looking for innocence under the rubble and lost faith of his age; he finds it in simple, unassuming things; his vision is mainly pastoral and he throws in with desert nomads, farmers, laborers, those untainted by power and the evil it wreaks upon the ordinary citizen. “Early I acquired the habit of looking for the eternal side of things,” he writes in “Old Savage/Young City,” from a book of that title published in 1964, just as the Vietnam War got underway. The man is in sympathy with the old hermit bards of China and India, poets like Han Shan, who retreated to a cave near the top of Cold Mountain to write about “the eternal side of things.” Tarn is a brother spirit of Gary Snyder, another loner and searcher after gods beyond Christianity and western life, and he finds divinity in odd places, disguised as gurus, old friends, lovers, and whales rising out of the sea, a frequent motif of his musings on board ships. The whale is his nomad of the deep, and he associates his own life with their wanderings around the planet. Tarn writes in the tradition of Charles Olson and the Black Mountain poets, whose open-ended style of poetry passed down to him and Eshleman.Tarn’s poem is always in the present, line by line, reactive, willing to turn around at the noise of a window shutting, or some other motion from the surrounding world. You never know which way the logic will jump, as in “The Great Odor of Summer,” which begins,”The land has been dead in its pores all the war long,” which risks sounding like all the other maudlin verse of the post-Vietnam era, but shifts ground in the second line, “now wakes to dogwood without transition.” What better description of winter 24 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 10/25/02