For some reason certain links from my response to Ted Burke’s recent blog entry on Paul Blackburn vanished when I posted it, creating what you might call a Swiss-cheese post. So I’m posting it here in all its glory—i.e., with links intact. You can find the Blackburn poem I’m referring to, in its correct format, here. As Burke notes in his post, he didn’t reproduce Blackburn’s original spatial presentation….
I wonder if anyone reading this poem would seek out more of Blackburn’s work. For me it’s too studied, a fairly pedestrian attempt at allegory. The language at its best (“distant churn of water between the small waves”) is very fine but at its worst (“my heart you may swim forever / out”, “The swimmer is himself”, etc.) is flat and pseudo profound. These dueling qualities make Blackburn one of the more frustrating poets to read, because with a few exceptions they result in poems that don’t cohere. Most of his poems, in fact, read like undigested notes toward poems, and all the poet’s skill with line endings and jazzy sound effects can’t make them more than they are. One only has to read Blackburn beside certain of his contemporaries—Cid Corman, Denise Levertov, Robert Creeley—to hear and feel the difference.
From my perspective, Blackburn’s best work lies in his fine translations: his troubadour anthology Proensa is magnificent, as are his translations of Lorca and Cortázar. Maybe the givenness of the original work, its substantiality and coherence, provided what Blackburn’s sensibility could not provide for his own writing.