Online Edition: Spring 2000

nothing doing by Cid Corman

nothing doing

Cid Corman

New Directions ($13.95)

by Darrin Daniel

Poetry becomes
            that conversation we could
            not otherwise have.

Cid Corman's latest book, comprised of poems from the 80s and 90s, is long overdue. For over fifty years Corman, as poet, translator, and editor of Origin press, has delivered his literary mastery to poetry. His work is a direct link to the modernism of Pound and Williams, the Objectivists, and Black Mountain poetics; his influence can be seen in some of the Language poets. As editor and publisher, he has featured some of our very finest writers: Williams, Olson, Zukofsky, Niedecker, Creeley, Whalen, Levertov, and a long line thereafter. Indeed, Corman has earned his keep as editor and literary ambassador, but sadly his own poetry has failed to reach a wider audience. Perhaps that may change, as this latest book is just one of a number of books due out in this new millennium.

nothing doing is a sparse and direct book, its small poems varying in length and structure. The book is divided in five sections. The first section contains three poems entitled 'psalms'; these short and beautiful poems, which set the book off as an offering to the reader, are transliterations from the biblical Psalms, each of which considers and transcends the original. The final section of the book is interwoven with haiku; they help us to digest and break down all that has come before. Corman's voice is a fine and eloquent distillation of those poetic movements mentioned earlier, and they set the tone for an individual's own process with language. Though, as Hayden Carruth has written of Corman's poetry, he is fiercely his own man: "The look of delicacy is deceptive. More often it's leanness, poems growing from their own center--no influences, no formal props." This, I think, gets at the heart of what Corman has developed over the years. Corman ranges widely in nothing doing--he can be sharp and clear, then switch gears in another poem, providing abstract, rhythmic structures.

By working with a small space, Corman creates his own stage of words and expressions--a tone which is demanding, yet luminously simple. This is a lean, efficient, and lucid voice in action on the page. His is a poetry of pun-like conundrum, as Robert Kelly suggests in his back cover note. Sometimes it almost passes the reader by, and this is why Corman's work often requires deeper reading: it asks that the reader slow down and absorb his minimal structures. Corman's work has always been about joy as well as the immeasurable pain of life to the point of language through language. His poems give something back which is tangible. From the third section of the book, a meditation on words and their relationship to the world, Corman writes:

I want the words
so simple and
true you think they

have come out of
your own mouth and
are breathing you.

This is Corman at his best, pondering and evoking a presence through the language which clearly establishes its groundwork. Corman is able to create an array of emotions and instances through such simplistic designs. It is thought, but thought tied to experience through a language 'breathing' itself out into the world.

Through a sublime orchestration of juxtaposition and circumstance, Corman produces a poetry full of layered meaning while providing a minimal framework. Although nothing doing may not rank with other Corman classics such as Sun Rock Man and Livingdying, it is an important book, showing Corman here and now, working the language with delightful economy and poignancy. nothing doing is a precise poetry, a window shot of the world in minute pieces of wonder:

Chewing rock

tasting dust
getting down

to gristle

bone. Feeling
what it is

to eat air.

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Spring 2000 Table of Contents