The Wars of Love and Other Poems
When poet Jack Gilbert, some time in the 1970’s in San Francisco, asked his poetry class, “Who here aspires to write a masterpiece?”, not one hand was raised. I, on the other hand, wanted to do just that; after reading Blake’s Prophetic Books for the first time, as a naive youth, I said to myself: “Wow! I’d like to write one of those!” So I tried my best; it took me thirty-three years. The idol of “street language” that entered my art in the 1970’s was of no interest to me; I wanted to write in a dense, heightened, magical, poetic language such as ear of cabbie or bar-fly never heard. I respect those poets who, like my mentor Lew Welch, can bring high poetic diction and “the common speech of the Tribe” seamlessly together; in many ways I like that kind of poetry better than I do my own. But I was given to write in a certain style, to fill in a certain blank square on the map of the English language, and so I complied. The Muse assigns styles as God assigns fates, and thus—to paraphrase the Hindu scriptures—“it is better to write one’s own poetry, no matter how poorly, than to try and write somebody else’s, no matter how well.” Much of the poetry in this book hails from a collective psychic era of great and chaotic imaginative force, whose ruins we are in many ways still poking around in today, looking for shards, coins, and old photographs. It was written over a period of around 40 years; it’s all the verse (apart from what appears in my books Panic Grass, Time Raid, and Doorkeeper of the Heart, and the few scattered poems in Hammering Hot Iron: A Spiritual Critique of Bly’s Iron John; Findings in the Arts of Metaphysics, Cosmology and the Spiritual Path, and Shadow of the Rose: The Esoterism of the Romantic Tradition) that is really worth preserving. Not much of a harvest for a 40-year crop, a dearth which I believe is explained by the fact that I am basically not a poet but a metaphysician. And although it is rather short on “personal history”, in reality it is my only autobiographical work—the story of the soul known as Charles Upton, or at least some of the more darkly idealistic aspects of it, which is one of the many, many souls God always knew He was going to create, with all its strengths, weaknesses, imbalances, and challenges. This book is the story of that soul’s entry into and emergence from an essentially Neo-Pagan worldview, derived from the American counterculture, and its debarkation on the shores of a traditional sacred worldview and a living spiritual Path.
American poets, learn your job;
Write whatever irks the mob;
Stomp these wimps who fear to mean,
Whose sole craft is to make the scene.
Born yesterday, to the world they go;
“Born again” they’ll never know.
Cast a slim eye
On dusk, on dawn: