from Cento Magazine
On Chemo Sábe
Chemo Sábe. Edward Dorn, Limberlost Press
17 Canyon Trail, Boise, Idaho 83716, ,
50 p, 7 x 10 letterpress sewn, $20
fifty copies bound in boards
and signed by Jennifer Dunbar Dorn
and cover artist Ray Obermayr, $85
Twenty of Edward Dorn’s final poems largely on the subject matter of his life with pancreatic cancer post the diagnosis in 1997 until his death on December 10th, 1999, are hereby letter pressed onto Mohawk paper for your delectation and esthetic edification. Understandably bitter and vitriolic, Dorn never lost any of his sharp edges, announcing once during a reading in March of 1999 that "My problem is how to make pain funny."
Laughter is elixir for the immune system and whether or not Dorn’s elaborate sense of humor prolonged his life, it certainly informed his writing as in "Chemo du Jour: The Impeachment on Decadron," for which he won one of the few prizes of his life from The Denver Quarterly where it was first published: "…Forget Acquittal / or quitting of any kind--‘I entered, / but I never came.’"
As Dorn goes over his personal selections--or those selected personally for him, from or at the terminus of what he called "the well-worn path to the Apothecary," the route of this civilization if it is going anywhere, it is clearly out of its mind--he has time to drop back to his origins in the marvelous poem "Tribe." Here not only is his contempt for the misuse of power re-established, "Governments always conspire against / The population and often / This is not even malice; / Just nothing better to do," it is justly included with a fine salute to "My grandfather French Quebecois / Master pipefitter in the age of steam." Only the deaf could miss this crisply loving music. In a fine audio compilation by Anselm Hollo of Dorn’s reading from his satirical verse, "Tribe" is also recited within a few months of his death. Dorn’s voice breaks with emotion and will make believers of more than his acolytes that "…it would take more paper / Than I’ll ever have to express how justified I feel."
The justification on the other hand of the environmentally induced cancer plague and epidemic, affecting many poets and millions of other people, will take more paper and brains than commercial and political apologists will ever be able to expropriate. Our common chemical fate is all too frequently in other’s hands. Being right won’t make us well directly though and since Dorn apparently recognized the pancreas as the seat of the soul, the possibility remains that some of his vitriol leaked into his soul.
Blasting his enemies, those whom he can feel carrying unconscious intentions to make his cancer grow, "with a beam / Of my centrifugal silence / In the flow of the taxodiaceae," Dorn goes out swinging. Anyone reading a lot of the poetry being published for the first time in contemporary America could readily get the impression that most of it consists of the oblique parries, feints and thrusts of thinly disguised career moves on the not so hallowed battleground of what Bly has condemned as the 256 extant MFA programs. The fact that Dorn was operating under a death sentence against the low signal to noise ratio of the background radiation, his career about to be foreshortened in a screeching halt, gives the work a riveting attention getting quality general plaints on malaise can never achieve.
The prayer, as if we had one, qualities of the final poem in Chemo Sábe, "The Garden of the White Rose" where "mercy is stretched so thin" are plaintive in their evocation. The book has a lovely cover created by his old friend Ray Obermayr. What if the makers of Prilosec got ahold of this text. Could we be so lucky that they’d sue for defamation of product? Dorn, a demanding poet for demanding readers, demands in "The Dull Relief of General Pain--Oxycontin, Roxicodone and Codeine in General:" "What’s going on? This is poetry calling! / Poetry is waiting for an answer."