Swans Commentary » swans.com August 28, 2006  



Craig Paulenich's Drift of the Hunt


by Gerard Donnelly Smith


Poetry Review



Paulenich, Craig: Drift of the Hunt, Nobodaddies Press, Sacramento, California, August 2006, ISBN: 0-9786131-0-4, 65 pages, $12.00.


(Swans - August 28, 2006)   "With one foot in the Paleolithic and one in the modern" was how Craig explained his approach to the Goat-man poems; the bulk of the poems in Drift of the Hunt develops this pathetic character. By pathetic, I mean to congratulate Craig on creating another literary character with whom we identify, with whom we sympathize, yet who has traits from which we shrink in horror. These literary characters like the daemon in Mary Shelly's Frankenstein, the vampire Lestat from Anne Rice's novels, and Lucifer from Milton's "Paradise Lost" are driven by their natures. In essence, their actions are not exceptional, but "normal" in that each reader may see some part of him/herself in the character; we identify because even in our modern dress, with cell phones to our ears, we still feel the satyr beneath the skin.

Perhaps my favorite poem in the collection, "Breaking out, Breaking in," evolved from a conversation Craig and I had about his early Goat-man poems. My father raised sheep and goats, and I told Craig the story of curing the flocks of foot rot. Craig's eyes lit up, and the poem was born:

The Goat-Man has hoof rot,

The dark toes of his shoes,

Florsheims pulled from a dumpster,

are stuffed with rags

soaked with formaldehyde.


He makes small squishing noises

when he walks.

He stinks.

In order to cure himself of hoof rot, the Goat-man must break into a High School to find the formaldehyde. One must sympathize with the plight of any creature in pain, and for the Goat-man who is a loveable character, who sits at home whittling flutes, who has intimate nights with old lovers. But we shrink from his cure in horror, because like other pathetic characters, he exposes our own dark natures:

In the closet of the chem lab

his beard and hair medusa-wild,

typecast in this grade-B horror,

he will screw lid off jaws

where fetal pigs float, pig

astronauts working in weightlessness.

He pours this foul healant onto his feet,

giving voice to soggy mantra,

restoring the pigs to gravity.

In the chem lab, the biology lab, the science museum, and the carnival, we keep the deformed creatures, the two-headed calves, the alligator-boy, the sheep-boy, the aborted fetuses in formaldehyde, to illustrate the 9-month growth rate of the child. These scientific oddities we store for our edification and for our entertainment, having no sympathy for the creature or human with "eyes anxious for escape in any direction." Though we many have no sympathy for these creatures, the Goat-man does, for "When the Neighbor Butchers" he is "utterly stunned,/hamstrings pulled taut" as "the pigs are going nosily to slaughter."

Even though he has qualities that we admire, The Goat-man must act out his nature and the peasants must warn their children that he will eat them, the landlady must fear the "bloodstains in the sink" and adolescent girls must answer his satyr's call. The tension between our better angles and our darker natures exists in each poem in Craig's Drift of the Hunt, a tension that exists in all great poetry which remains, as Keats said, within negative capability. Craig's poems remain in that mystery without reaching for answers or asking "irritable questions."

Craig explores this tension, and the magic of these poems, in "Hieroglyphs," symbols with which we try to make meaning of the world. Yet that meaning itself becomes the unknown danger we wished to understand or ward off; our sentences become "stiff as iron bars" and our hearts pace nervously behind them. We are "startled zoo-keepers,/afraid to turn our backs." Such is the dilemma of language; the more we explain our own natures, the more we have to fear; the words themselves reinforce the reality we desperately wished to escape, create a reality with which we must learn to cope, a new landscape to cross.

Each myth, each folklore, each poem becomes "The Crossing," a place of great potential and great danger. The deer in the "perfectly wrong" field must cross to reach the safety of the undergrowth. Craig's imagery is beautiful, his description of nature rivals the best Pastoral poets, yet beneath those sylvan syllables, death waits, the hunter waits, the Goat-man waits. The darkness and the light, the yin and yang are simultaneously, already always present. Even "Jesus and Judas" were "joined at the metaphysical hip" and "at the supper table they/finished each others sentences/spoke in the private language/of a country of two." Twins? "Lamb or Goat"? Mirror image.

These revelations Craig presents with a distinctive poetic voice. Yet, the poems, as do all revelations, present the alternative reality, one in which the darkness and the light understand that one needs the other, accept each other in a Jungian dream of unification. In "If You Wish to See Me," Craig explains how each of us may find our own goat, our own mysterious, Neolithic self, druid-like, hoop restored, hieroglyphs understood, undergrowth found:

Stand in the water at first light

when fog pulls itself from the lake

and dark crows swim in the air between them.

Come among the oaks at night,

where the air is humid

and the moon pregnant with light.

. . .

Look for me in the corners of gardens and bedrooms.

Think of me when you bend,

and when you cross into sleep.

In each poem from Drift of the Hunt, you will see the poet, yourself, and the goat. Craig's voice ranges through the melancholy, the joyous, the mysterious, though personal pain and through "cannonballs of epiphany." I have known many of these poems since Craig and I were in graduate school, drinking beer, and debating the merits of projective verse and poetic hoaxes. Finally, they have been published, and I am grateful. Thank you Doug Rice and Nobodaddies Press.


· · · · · ·
Paulenich, Craig: Drift of the Hunt, Nobodaddies Press, Sacramento, California, August 2006, ISBN: 0-9786131-0-4, 65 pages, $12.00.

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About the Author

Gerard Donnelly Smith on Swans (with bio).



Please, feel free to insert a link to this work on your Web site or to disseminate its URL on your favorite lists, quoting the first paragraph or providing a summary. However, please DO NOT steal, scavenge, or repost this work on the Web or any electronic media. Inlining, mirroring, and framing are expressly prohibited. Pulp re-publishing is welcome -- please contact the publisher. This material is copyrighted, © Gerard Donnelly Smith 2006. All rights reserved.


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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
URL for this work: http://www.swans.com/library/art12/gsmith71.html
Published August 28, 2006