Author: Smith, Jordan
Date published: April 1, 2010
Thirsting for Peace in a Raging Century: Selected Poems 1961-1985 by Edward Sanders. New and Revised Edition, Coffee House Press, 260 pp., $20.00 (paper).
Let's Not Keep Fighting the Trojan War: New and Selected Poems 19862009 by Edward Sanders, introduction by Joanne Kyger. Coffee House Press, 244 pp., $20;00 (paper).
From the start of a career in poetry that has mixed provocation with a deep sympathy for suffering and gratitude for the pleasures that might alleviate it, Edward Sanders has been dedicated to the pursuit of "to apeiron / The Uncrossable / The Boundless" ("Hymn to O"). For a poet more conventionally situated in the romantic tradition, this might have been an invitation to transcendence; for Sanders, whose guide in this passage is Charles Olson, the bridge that crosses the uncrossable is the indwelling of the past in the present, in particular the tradition of a radical art that Sanders sees as running from ancient Greece and Egypt through Blake to "The Yiddish Speaking Poets of the Lower East Side" to his own Peace Eye Bookstore and beyond. As John Barrett sings Sappho into presence in his low-rent apartment ("Sappho on East Seventh"), so Sanders represents a sense of cultural immanence running from Archilochus and Aeschylus to Olson and Ginsberg, Blackburn and Berrigan (he is a fine anecdotal elegist), while his interest in an "investigative poetry" allows him to make relevant to his art a channel-surfer's cable lineup of contemporary concerns, from black holes to Masons to Manson to health-care reform to toxic-waste disposal to terrorism. He is, Emerson might have said, "man thinking," the scholar who admits no boundaries to the desire for knowledge, no matter how audacious the crossing. Sanders, after all, once adapted an Olson poem to sing "I Want to Know" with the Fugs, a credo and a rationale for facing the complicated facts of human experience, and it is our good fortune to have this generous two-volume selection of his shorter work at hand to edify, to encourage, and to incite us to do likewise.
* Jordan Smith