Saturday, August 18, 2012

My Top Ten New Mexico Poets: D.H. Lawrence

What is a New Mexico poet? Is one required to have been born in "The Land of Enchantment?" Is it enough to have an MFA from one of its universities, or merely to have resided long enough within its fronteras to become addicted to Hatch green chili enchiladas? Does one have to be living there now? Living anywhere?

Answers will depend upon to whom you ask which question. For me, a New Mexican poet is one who has produced significant work under the spell of its light, its zia, and the question I ask it whether its deserts, its skies, its mountains--all of its sacred peoples and places--have worked their way not only into the lines of the poems, but also into the white spaces between them--regardless of whether they were written in Las Cruces or in L.A.

This series, therefore, will deal with poets who are natives, as well as those whose work has been influenced by New Mexico's magic, no matter how much time has been spent in residence. All will have been indelibly marked by New Mexico, and all will have affected me and my work deeply--for I consider myself a New Mexico poet.

Although considered mainly a novelist, and having been born in England, D.H. Lawrence wrote poetry highly influenced by New Mexico. He wrote that, in New Mexico, a "new part" of his soul "woke up suddenly" and "the old world gave way to a new". In Native American religion he discovered there were no gods, because "all is god".

New Mexico liberated D.H. Lawrence's poetry, moving it away from a "closed" to an "open," more American form. Here is a rather familiar poem of that illustrates this quite directly:

Eagle In New Mexico

Towards the sun, towards the south-west
A scorched breast.
A scorched breast, breasting the sun like an answer,
Like a retort.
An eagle at the top of a low cedar-bush
On the sage-ash desert
Reflecting the scorch of the sun from his breast ;
Eagle, with the sickle dripping darkly above.

Erect, scorched-pallid out of the hair of the cedar,
Erect, with the god-thrust entering him from below,
Eagle gloved in feathers
In scorched white feathers
In burnt dark feathers
In feathers still fire-rusted ;
Sickle-overswept, sickle dripping over and above.

Staring two ways at once, to right and left ;
With iron between your two eyes ;
You feather-gloved
To the feet ;
Foot-fierce ;
Erect one ;
The god-thrust entering you steadily from below.

You never look at the sun with your two eyes.
Only the inner eye of your scorched broad breast
Looks straight at the sun.

You are dark
Except scorch-pale-breasted ;
And dark cleaves down and weapon-hard downward curving
At your scorched breast,
Like a sword of Damocles,
Beaked eagle.

You’ve dipped it in blood so many times
That dark face-weapon, to temper it well,
Blood-thirsty bird.
Why do you front the sun so obstinately,
American eagle ?
As if you owed him an old, old grudge, great sun : or an old, old allegiance.

When you pick the red smoky heart from a rabbit or a light-blooded bird
Do you lift it to the sun, as the Aztec priests used to lift red hearts of men ?

Does the sun need steam of blood do you think
In America, still,
Old eagle ?

Does the sun in New Mexico sail like a fiery bird of prey in the sky
Hovering ?

Does he shriek for blood ?
Does he fan great wings above the prairie, like a hovering, blood-thirsty bird ?

And are you his priest, big eagle
Whom the Indians aspire to ?
Is there a bond of bloodshed between you ?

Is your continent cold from the ice-age still, that the sun is so angry ?
Is the blood of your continent somewhat reptilian still,
That the sun should be greedy for it ?

I don’t yield to you, big, jowl-faced eag
Nor you nor your blood-thirsty sun
That sucks up blood
Leaving a nervous people.

Fly off, big bird with a big black back.
Fly slowly away, with a rust of fire in your tail,
Dark as you are on your dark side, eagle of heaven.

Even the sun in heaven can be curbed and chastened at last
By the life in the hearts of men.
And you, great bird, sun-starer, heavy black beak
Can be put out of office as sacrifice bringer.

D.H. Lawrence: one of my top ten favorite New Mexico poets!

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