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This review is taken from PN Review 192, Volume 36 Number 4, March - April 2010.

JOHN ARMSTRONG Lyric Desolation and Cold War Horizons in the Poetry of Edward Dorn

Edward Dorn wrote poetry, stories and essays from the early fifties until his death from pancreatic cancer in 1999. In ‘Chemo Du Jour: The Impeachment on Decadron’ (Chemo Sábe, 2001), he managed to poeticise and link the treatment of his illness to contemporary politics, satirising Clinton’s affair and impeachment through a vision achieved on a drug which, in Dorn’s words, ‘sharpens the senses / around the optic nerve and neocortex, / enabling one to see into / the present.’ This says much about Dorn the man and the poet, that right up until his death he should continue to explore the connections between the self and the political nation. The need to ‘see / into the present’ is an apt description of Dorn’s mission in poetry throughout his career and this paper will track some of his much earlier attempts to ‘see’ into the present, past and future, and to explore the effects of the Cold War period on his lyricism and poetics.

‘The Sparrow Sky’, from Dorn’s first volume The Newly Fallen (1961), is a melancholy poem set in America’s farming Midwest. Through its concentration on space - ‘the vast mid-west, / where I was on a flat nearly black plain’ - the speaker is repeatedly configured as isolated and subordinated to a desolate landscape:

- it is November and I am with
the shadow of a bird
one elsewhere now like a shield
across my own hollowed self

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