Review of Ed Dorn’s Derelict Air: From Collected Out (Enitharmon, London, 2015)

Assembled by Justin Katko and Kyle Waugh, two of the four editors of Dorn’s Collected Poems (Carcanet 2012), who worked closely with Dorn’s widow Jenny Dorn on that collection, Derelict Air is a kind of catalogue refusé of Dorn’s uncollected works. Although weighing in at a hefty 590 pages, and admittedly a treasure trove of otherwise obscure and unseen writing for lovers of Dorn’s writing (of which I am most certainly one), it is hardly a distinguished volume on its own merits.

A certain lack of discernment seems to have clouded the minds of the editors, who might have reconsidered including some of ED’s more quotidian day- (& night-) book entries, avoiding the mundane, almost laundry and grocery list, quality of some of that work. I eagerly flipped through the book to the section called “More Abhorrences” and “Abominatiόnes” in search of the sharp and often happily tactless wit with which Dorn often tackled the inanities of official culture in the USofA.

 

CRIPPLED CLERIHEW

Balding Pat Boone

Preemminent christian goon

Breath like a dead raccoon

Is not as smart as Weicker,

In fact there’s nothing like ‘r

It didn’t do it for me. It’s the kind of thing Dorn would toss off with his free hand while driving to the mall to pick up groceries. He had a million of ‘em, as Jimmy Durante used to say. And the “Fragments & Satellites” from Gunslinger would have best been left in their notebook.

There are moments throughout “The Day & Night Report” which contain the cynical zing of truth that are Dorn hallmarks, and a few longer pieces worth a quick look, but unless you’re a fanatic like me, the book will probably be a disappointment. After Dorn’s close friend, Tom Raworth’s Collected Poems came out in 2003, Raworth rummaged around a bit and found some work that he said should have been included. It’s contained in a 90 page book called Windmills in Flames. Katko and Waugh should have taken the hint and followed his example. There are times (more often than not) when the poet’s archive should just be left alone.