Russell Dillon – Eternal Patrol
Forklift Books 2013
Page Length: 82
There was something nearly traceable
within us, horse-like and holy.
Without this field, there would be
an unnamed vacancy between trees.
Here: A photograph where your face
is obscured by blurring snowflakes.
Gloam-lensed, a moment before
inviting me into your papier-mache home.
Maddening how, in this home, in this storm,
I fear most the lightning and not the rain,
the improbable over the certain. A sound
from the map room: mellifluous, stupid river.
“Each Combustible Fluid Ounce in its Divorcing” (12-3)
Russell Dillon’s debut collection from Forklift Books, Eternal Patrol, radiates bioluminescent longing and maniacal ache. Dillon’s poetry fuses the energy of ecstasy with the reflective intensity of a mind that catches itself thinking helplessly into an abyss of terrible beauty. It is poetry that proceeds from the force of its diction: image-driven and unencumbered—it roams the lyric landscape like a hand over goosebumped flesh—gently electric, felt and feeling, vulnerable and terrified to life by the force of contact.
The inaugural release from Forklift Books, an imprint of indie mainstay H_NGM_N Books and the perfect-bound extension of contemporary American poetry’s OG of DIY, Forklift, Ohio, Dillon’s book sets the tone for a press that straddles the fuck you aesthetic of punk culture and the bleeding heart, rose-ravaged hands of the Romantic literary tradition. Certainly present in Dillon’s work is the unmistakable legacy of Dada, Surrealism, the Beats, and, most prominently, the “Last Avant-Garde” of the New York School of poets: Rimbaud, Tzara, Breton, Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, and John Ashbery. Dillon’s poems often speak plainly and powerfully, imbued with energy derived from bright, sprawling diction.
Let’s get something straight: the quivering bolts
of your empire portray a certain innocence
but are not nearly a match for the fits of your sky.
Yes, the four doors of the heart fly open, slam shut,
though the motion’s symbiosis is never quite explained.
“More Mid- than -Western” (25)
And yet Dillon’s participation in this lineage highlights a distinct strain of avant-gardism: the reflective vulnerability of Apollinaire, Robert Desnos, Frank O’Hara and, perhaps the closest kin to Dillon among these greats: James Schuyler, whose meditations often defy the stereotypical chattiness of the New York School, which Ashbery once cleverly conceded as superficial, “all the way down.” There is very little of the superficial in Dillon’s poetry: it radiates from the core of things out into the plains of observation.
The air, and its oceans, they want to break into you.
I’m bringing this, and my ignorant translation of light.
It is Christmas morning. Your mother is crying,
and so are you, both trapped or dead beneath this ice,
within these pressures, these peekings, these tiny bits of glass.
“Eternal Patrol” (63)
Dillon’s poetry is a fever dream from which he refuses to wake, except to pull the reader into his warmed blanket fort filled with wonderfully grave play. In this regard, he is yet another bright-burning acolyte of Dean Young, his generation’s single most influential poet. But while some Young-ites err into the only-momentarily-interesting crack and sizzle of dizzying association, Dillon, like Young himself, divines within chaos the drone of mortality.
A horse throws its show, and all over is the sky.
I have been given a lot of drugs lately, but have taken very few.
I never feel the weight that I am when reading it from a scale,
but oftentimes the weight that I feel goes unmeasured.
Seeds, water, and good soil, yet still the earth does not roar
when we slam into it with our shovels. Rather, it resists us by
not turning. On one side of the bridge there is a suicide view,
on the other an out-to-sea-ness that is attacked by larger boats.
These tasks, and everything about finance, are quite foreign to me,
but when the fires start, I understand completely.
“Damage Damage” (64)
Dillon moves with his feet to the earth, even as he wanders it restlessly with his head stowed in innumerable clouds. This ambulatory, meditative intensity largely eludes the tradition of the avant-garde and finds its source instead in the great English Romantics: Wordsworth, Keats, Shelley and John Clare. Like these poets, Dillon relies on pastoral imagery and the refuge of Nature as a place of both chaos and order. More contemporary examples of this, and more proximate to Dillon’s own poems, are James Wright, Gary Snyder, James Galvin, Robert Hass, and Louise Gluck. What unites these poets is the conviction that the real is really real and that poetry can make it so. The result is a brutally elegant navigation of high-stakes beauty, a notion perfectly captured by this collection’s title. When a submarine goes missing, it is said to be on “eternal patrol”—the image conjured is a vessel roaming beneath the surface of the sea in perpetual investigation of the unknown depths from which the living can never return. Dillon’s collection is such a vessel: as unexpected and awesome as a creature that has evolved to see in perfect darkness.
And then there was our great envy of the painters,
how it all became an agreement with our sisters,
that light alone would reveal their breasts
to be our mothers’ breasts, like a map into
the backstreets of a small town burning.
There are terrible places in this world, but
people know our names there, so we return.
“Collect Call from the Hague” (29)
Russell Dillon’s Eternal Patrol feels its way through the dark: reaching for anything that might offer orientation. What makes this wandering artful and potentially salvific is that Dillon’s hands can see what they feel, and that the mind to which they’re attached has the words to make real for us their feeling.