PETER DALE SCOTT: REVIEWS OF MINDING THE DARKNESS
Poeta Doctus [Bryan Sentes], January 11, 2011: Here was a poetry prima facie reminiscent of the late tercets of William Carlos Williams, but whose nearly prosaic plainness was underwritten by a complex, suggestive syntax ("language escaping / the rules of syntax // and prosody and aesthetics" as the poem itself put it, in the best reflexive, "postmodern" manner) whose difficulty, tracing the imaginative, emotional and intellectual struggle with what Dante called mala condotta, evil governance, and its relation to tradition and imagination, I found bracing, both in its challenge and its sincerity ("technique is the test of sincerity" Pound observed). As well, the poem employed that Modernist and most modern of techniques, what is loosely termed "intertextuality, deftly weaving in italicized passages from a veritable library of culturally and historically global sources, emphasizing, with a humble honesty, the way every voice, especially a written, poetic one, is a polyphony of many voices. But what I found most compelling was how the poetryengaged the political and social world, in a way the best canonical poetry does (think of Dante, Wordsworth, Shelley, Whitman, Yeats) and the way the writing most important to me did, that of Pound, Ginsberg, and William Burroughs, learnedly and in specific, concrete luminous detail. At the time, Spoken Word poets ranted and L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets wrestled with Capitalism in the arena of the Sign, but here was an engagement grounded in,i.facts, yet everywhere acutely, and sometimes painfully, aware of its own contingency.
Publisher's Weekly, September 18, 2000, 106: "Scott mostly eschews pedantics on all fronts in favor of a kind of crystal-clear poetic investigative reporting, where a healthy dose of uncertainty is allowed...but he is at his most compelling when the book learning moves to the periphery and personal experience and thought come together in moments of simple, unflinching resolve....This Darkness insists on clarity, often returning to the theme of ill-governance and brilliantly working against the tendency to separate the personal -- and the poetic -- from the political, and is thus the perfect book for a rancorous election season."
Jamey: "All the balls and the learning of Ezra Pound, without the Fascism. In fact, Peter Dale Scott is one of the greatest anti-fascists walking the earth at the moment."
Roger Mitchell, Chicago Review, Fall 1998, 36-40: "What Minding the Darkness does is to ground the need `to change the world' in a number of great, not to say canonical, masterworks of literature....It is finally...`precisely poetry' that will assist at the rebirth of human culture....This self-examination coincides with a greater spiritual grounding of the speaker, and that shift has made a return, in the unpublished volume, to the partially repressed world of politics a necessity. Where, I might add, if he speaks from greater height or distance, he also speaks with greater hope."
Alan Williamson, Chicago Review, [Fall] 1998, 17-18: "Scott is one of the few American Buddhist poets more interested in rendering the actual experience of meditation than in repeating Buddhist truisms. Ultimately, I think, his poem aims at nothing less than the reconciliation of the humbling darkness of religious experience with the stubborn pragmatist....I sometimes share Scott's fear that these late sections, like the prototype epics of old age -- the Paradiso, Paradise Regained, Pound's Thrones, Book V of Paterson -- will dissipate in intellectualizations. But they also share in those works' spiritual grandeur, and, like them, have the courage to pursue the biggest topic of all: What is virtue? What is right action?"
David Gewanter, Chicago Review, Fall 1998, 19-23: "[In Minding the Darkness] Scott is still at work investigating how our passions and talents create cultural systems, and how such systems can, in turn, victimize us. His new cantos may not pivot around an idee fixe, but they do show, with haunting precision, the shared cost that accuser and accused must pay."
Sandra VonLienen, PoeticVoices, aol.com: "Minding the Darkness by Peter Dale Scott is storybook fashion poetry. From page 3 to page 242, the author strikes softly at hard, pounding realities of politics and personal tragedy, love and his own mortality. Through the use of tight, three line juxtapositions, Minding the Darkness is filled with small, detailed snapshots enough to fill pages, compressed to be mere moments.... Minding the Darkness is the final volume of Peter Dale Scott's landmark trilogy Seculum. Following Coming to Jakarta and Listening to the Candle, it brings to a stunning, triumphant conclusion a remarkable and sui generis poem.... I am currently out the door to find the first two volumes. Happy reading!!"
David Shaddock, Poetry Flash, 289 (Jan/Feb/March 2002), 1: "At the end of a century...this certainly is a time for reflecting on the trajectory of our civilization. It is to this task of examination, and self-examination, that Peter Dale Scott lends his talents in his magnificent book-length Minding the Darkness.... One thing that immediately strikes the reader...is the contrast between two seemingly opposite voices: the poet's unadorned vulnerability and confusion on the one hand, and the astounding scope of his erudition and breadth of subject matter...on the other. Scott is simultaneously a sage and a novice. As it turns out, this is just one of the many contradictions and dichotomies that run through the work.... In one poignant passage, the poet, finding himself unable to lift a half-submerged canoe out of the water, realizes how much courage it took for his wife, Ronna, to marry an older man....As the poem zooms out to scan all of human history...Scott seamlessly gathers up super string theory...the Iliad and the Odyssey, a New Yorker article on Rwanda...the alchemy of John Dee and Robert Fludd....
Scott is not an academic or purely confessional poet, content to live with the irony of his internal contradictions. He writes that "...we are adrift / in an ocean of non-commitment" (IV.ii) and he is not about to be one more rudderless poet....Scott's analysis of the U.S. role in the new world order focuses on the most undemocratic of our institutions, the Federal Reserve B[oard] and the CIA, and their hidden complicity with the illegal drug trade.... Scott turns his reflective gaze back on his own participation in the New Left, especially its excess of revolutionary rhetoric ("revolution as social lobotomy")...and the New Left's disrespect for the basic institutions of democracy, including the seminal thinking of Adams and Jefferson, who Scott cites as guiding thinkers.... [T]he poet moves towards some resolution between the personal and the political, asserting that "inner and outer enlightenment / depend on each other // both of them lost / when they are not dialogical." In a statement that foreshadows the terrorist attacks, Scott describes our present moment of "...secular capitalism / and its mimetic offspring / secular communism // facing the `theological alternative / of shariah and jihad....I recommend Minding the Darkness to all who struggle to make sense of our livews, lived as they are in the twin universes of selfhood and history.
Anneli Rufus, East Bay Express, 12/29/00: "Peter Dale Scott writes feelingly of his mother, the New World Order, and a hometown tragedy in which Berkeley attorney Fay Stender was shot by assailants who felt she had betrayed her client, Black Panther George Jackson -- later, paralyzed, she killed herself. Scott recounts a recent meeting with the family Stender left behind, including her son, now grown, with "two small daughters half Chinese/home for Pesach from Hong Kong/paraded and touched like the Torah."
thenatureofmind.typepad.com: "An epic poem by a poet who is a Buddhist and a researcher of the US Government's secret activities. An extraordinary piece of literature!"
Paul Scott Stanfield, Prairie Schooner, Winter 2004, 195-97: "Scott is surely right to insist that "there are times when the most novel/ act of creativity/ is to aim at the simple truth," and he seems all the more credible in that he undestands his own limitations: "truth emerges/ from letting go/ of the need for poetic Truth." Scott can not only excoriate the "decision/ to support the opium-growing/ Afghan rebels" and the "Texas oilmen/ who from the esrly '80s/ were lusting after Central Asian oil" but also remind us and himself that "it would be wrong to/ derive some Manichean moral/ there was no one evil strain." His Buddhist training and practice leaven the whole poem, even at its angriest, A section on dukkha ("the first noble truth/ not just suffering but imperfection/ impermanence") makes several accusations, but also ends by asking whether accusation itself can become complicit in what it accuses...."
Jason Boulet, 'I believe in enmindment': Enlightenments, Taoism, and Language in Peter Dale Scott's Minding the Darkness , University of Toronto Quarterly 75.4 (2006) 925-945: "Despite his desire for humans to 'attune / our self-clouded intellects / to the mysteries of Tao' (32), Scott clearly questions the wisdom of inactivity or passive acceptance in the face of both political and personal darkness. He dramatizes this doubt by recalling how, when he was canoeing as a boy, his father – whose 'ideals' were, significantly, 'drawn from moral critiques / of the acquisitive society' (22) – 'emphasized the importance / of paddling at first upstream // so as to be sure of getting back' (51). Scott transforms the river (in reality the St Lawrence) into the 'experience of history,' in which his younger self was 'launched unawares' (51) – only to find that, late in his life, he is left uncertain, implicated in innumerable horrors, and largely impotent: 'Depressed that my canoe / was now pretty much dead in water' (53). A complete acceptance of the 'impersonal and amoral' flux of the world can ultimately lead to the ridicule of any attempts at positive action and the reduction of all ethical distinctions to an absurd language game: 'How has the Way become so obscured that there are true and false? How has speech become so obscured that there are right and wrong? ... right and wrong are ... mutually dependent' (Chuang Tzu, 15), and 'the paths of right and wrong' 'are inextricably confused' (Chuang Tzu, 21)."