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PETER DALE SCOTT: REVIEWS OF POETRY BOOKS

   I. Reviews of COMING TO JAKARTA: A POEM ABOUT TERROR
   (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1988; New York: New Directions, 1989)
Robert Hass, "Some Notes on Coming to Jakarta," Agni, 31/32, pp. 334-61: "Coming to Jakarta is the most important political poem to appear in the English language in a very long time. Almost everything about it is deeply unexpected. It is, as its subtitle informs us, a poem about terror -- the subliminal, half-repressed terrors of private consciousness, terror as political violence...and also terror as a reasoned instrument of political policy. What makes the poem unexpected is not that it is about the first kind of terror, or even the second, but that it is also about the third, and that it tries to understand the relation among the three, for it has not been the case in the twentieth century that anyone who knew enough to write such a poem would write a poem at all.... So what Peter Dale Scott has undertaken in his long poem is both immensely ambitious and mostly unparalleled."

Thom Gunn, "Appetite for Power," TLS, February 1, 1991: "The structure of the poem is an accumulation of juxtapositions between the political and personal, the small and the large, the reflective and the anecdotal (a moment from a cocktail party in New York for the young and powerful is set beside an exquisite meditation on his wife; his life as consul in Warsaw in about 1960 comes next to an account of a historical Balinese mass-suicide, when a whole retinue drugged with opium walked deliberately into the fire of Dutch soldiers). Such a structure makes for a work of great richness and complexity."

Thom Gunn [same review, unpublished final paragraph]: "The self-qualifying courage that determines the introduction of this anecdote can only contribute to the authority and distinction of the whole. It is a book which extends the scope of poetry, reclaiming some of the ground lost since Dryden, lost even since Pound. Pound largely postponed his misgivings about his didactic aims until the Pisan Cantos, but they are of the very texture of Scott's poetry. So this long poem is a true invention, complicating and modifying the Poundian model until it becomes something of Scott's own. It should be of interest to all who read poetry."

Alan Williamson, "Poetry and Politics: The Case of Coming to Jakarta," Agni, 31/32, 315-25: "One of the three or four books of the last ten years that make "political poetry" something more than a cheering-section for various fashionable causes....Unlike The Cantos, Coming to Jakarta is almost hypnotically readable. There are at least two reasons for this. One is Scott's personality. Wry, conscientious, self-deprecating, he never casts himself in a heroic role....Then there is the matter of form. Scott has learned everything there is to learn from Williams' variable foot....But even more, I am thinking of a narrative skill much more common among fiction writers than poets -- a seemingly digressive development that suddenly pulls tight as a net around the reader and the subject."

Philip Metres, "From Reznikoff to Public Enemy," Poetry Foundation, November 5, 2007: "When literature scholar Tracy Ware argued that 'Coming to Jakarta is in a way the long poem that [Noam] Chomsky never wrote,' he captured the essentially radical nature of Peter Dale Scott's odd and compelling epic. Yet Chomsky, the linguistic and political anarchist known for his unflappable rationalism, never evokes the subjective terror that Scott summons in this nerve-bundled recounting of the poetâ' heady encounters with international political intrigue."

Philip Metres, "Poems for Peace," Poetry Foundation, September 15, 2010 "Mahmoud Darwish, 'A State of Siege'... ranks among the great political long poems in recent memory, in the tradition of Anna Akhmatova's Requiem and Peter Dale Scott's Coming to Jakarta."

Joshua Weiner, Poetry, September 2007: "Coming to Jakarta: A Poem About Terror (1988) [is] a remarkable book-length poem that fuses autobiography and political analysis unlike anything else in twentieth-century American poetry....

Askold Melnyczuk, Agni, 31-32, (1990): "A moral intelligence and nerve that put one in mind of Mandelstam."

Harriet Zinnes, "In Search of Ezra Pound," Contact II (Spring 1991), pp. 87-88: "When we read Coming to Jakarta...we are reading the work of a man intimately involved with the history of our time -- both its cultural and political history. Our own recent poets are lamentably lacking in Scott's breadth....Coming to Jakarta is a compelling book...and it ought to have a wide readership."

Steve Kowit, "Designed and Executed," Poetry Flash November 1989: "....Coming to Jakarta is a poem about how our language...has continually betrayed us. But it is also, and more anguishedly, about personal guilt and unwitting complicity. It is about coming to grips with what that bloodbath tells us...about ourselves and our culture....At its most successful, one feels the intensity of his suppressed rage and confusion.....[H]e has undertaken something far more serious than we are used to in our poetry. The degree to which he has succeeded in giving memorable voice to his own pain and the silenced screams of the victims of U.S. sponsored mass terror makes Coming to Jakarta something rather special in our recent literature."

James Laughlin [book jacket, Coming to Jakarta]: "Not since Robert Duncan's Ground Work and before that William Carlos Williams' Paterson has New Directions published a long poem as important as Coming to Jakarta."

Beloit Poetry Journal (Summer 1991), p. 39: "Agni magazine (no 31/32)....The second feature in this excellent issue is a symposium on Peter Dale Scott's enormously important poem Coming to Jakarta: A Poem about Terror...on the CIA involvement in the massacre of over half a million people in Indonesia in 1965. In addition to a statement by Scott, a section of a new poem by him, and an interview, are several valuable critical articles, including a magisterial analysis by Robert Hass, "Some Notes on Coming to Jakarta." The editors of Agni deserve our gratitude for calling attention to this major work."

Michael Ondaatje [book jacket, Coming to Jakarta]: "A brilliant and devastating book. An autobiography that cat's-cradles meticulously into world politics....This is a rare difficult book that uses precise poetry to evoke a map of the world where childhood lyric rubs shoulders terribly with the dark gods of power."

"Letters in Canada," University of Toronto Quarterly, Summer 1989, pp. 44-46: "...undoubtedly this year's most ambitious long poem....a net of connections that ends by delineating a new map of the world....a work that breaks down the genres of history and poetry to offer a new way of seeing the individual and society."

Books in Canada: "Scott manages with remarkable deftness to integrate the world of international political violence with his telling of the growth of a poet's mind....It is hard to think of another work like it by a Canadian poet."

Robert Pinsky [book jacket, Coming to Jakarta]: "Peter Dale Scott's poem is about nothing less than the terrifying interplay of power between governments and people. This is a bold, idiosyncratic, and arresting work."

Martin Hunter, Toronto Sunday Star, March 27, 1988: "What is unexpected is the range that connects the philosophical and the personal, the cosmic vision and the precisely observed social detail. Scott's ability to hook up dockside sherry parties in North Hatley with the ritual suicide of the rajah of Den Pasar involves a startling imaginative leap; it's as if Proust had compressed his social panorama into 150 pages."

Susan Glickman, Canadian Poetry, V (for the Year 1988), 1990, 113-21: "The 'way' suggested by the poem is spiritual and creative: to open oneself up to the forces within instead of projecting them on to ghosts in the trees, or evil people in the Pentagon....The supple phrasal shiftings of Scott's line, which dispenses with punctuation and instead uses line-breaks to reflect rhetorical pauses and emphases, are wonderfully suited to the poet's meanderings among lyric moments and catalogues of horrors....Admiring his accomplishment in this first volume as I do, I look forward with greatest anticipation to the second."

W.L. Webb, Manchester Guardian Weekly, August 14, 1988: "a riveting long poem published this year which collages black facts about the pathology of power into a Canadian elegy for innocence and a childhood that was shadowed by those facts."

Richard Ryan, Washington Post Book World, July 9, 1989: "a dreamlike meditation on the political corruption in the 20th century....These paradoxes are evocative and troubling....Scott's poem, for all its craziness and disorder, is real poetry, visionary and complex."

Marion K. Stocking, Beloit Poetry Journal, Spring 1993, 36: "...an enormously important poem, moving between the poet's psyche and the appalling events in Indonesia."

Mary B. Campbell, Parnassus, 17/18, Spring 1993, 380-403: "a truly successful work of art....[Where other poets] give evidence...of the overloading of our circuits, Scott's terrifying, implacable tercets reveal to us precisely what has overloaded them. The author of this magnificent poem...started his career as a Canadian diplomat....To such a man poetry offers the extraordinary possibility of speaking the truth, by which I mean concrete and usable truths....This function of the poem, as a relay between readers and the sources of important information...seems revolutionary to me, at least on a scale like this....The poet has found words 'terrible enough,' has managed after all to replicate, in the defining medium of human culture, 'that jangling chord.' Coming to Jakarta is not the peacock's scream; it is the struggling self-control of a true and terrible poet of empire."

Tim Lilburn, The Fiddlehead, Autumn 1994, 109-19: "This is a book that says more than I can comprehend, is broader than what I can hear. It humbles: both by what in it is graspable and by the intimation it fosters of a range of utterance beyond what I can know....The moral beauty of the poem and its literary beauty are inseparable; it is a book in love with the absent good of the polis, a book of civic passion, but it strikes no fine pose, is not rectitudinous, does not lecture or labour at its virtue...it is not narcissistic....Scott's poem is autobiography but it is also a hermeneutic of political history since World War I....there is no impartial observer, no passive object over which such an observer has the rights of an interpreter. By indirection, by not hiding his confusion, but bespeaking his life, Scott hovers close to the centre of things....Because this recording is powerless...the poem while ambitious is humble. Silence or a humility that might just turn into compunction....

Joshua Weiner, Boston Review, Feb.-Mar. 1995, 31: "When Peter Dale Scott's remarkable and unnerving long poem, Coming to Jakarta appeared in 1988, it was recognized as a major work....An attempt to overcome the psychic self-alienation brought on by Scott's discovery of US involvement in the 1965 slaughter of more than half a million Indonesians, this immensely readable "poem about terror" uses a collage method to trace the links between the political machinations of imperial states and the actions of individual conscience."

Tracy Ware, "The Shifting Sand of a Son's Radical Faith in Peter Dale Scott's Coming to Jakarta: A Poem about Terror". University of Toronto Quarterly - Volume 71 Number 4, Fall 2002, 827-42.

David Gewanter, “The ‘Berkeley Mafia’ in Peter Dale Scott’s Coming to Jakarta: A Faculty Investigates Itself,” 2003 Modern Language Association Annual Convention, San Diego, 12/03: “a crystalline example of how a single, vast yet remote disaster can provide the fixed center for obsessive and personal poetry, especially when the causes of the disaster are close to home…..Coming to Jakarta pursues the roots of genocide, how the workings of political manipulation, money, international ruling-class interests and the intelligentsia can trigger immense human destruction. The CIA, Ford Foundation and ‘Berkeley Mafia’ helped establish the means for genocide…because it is poetry, Coming to Jakarta properly investigates how our passions and talents create cultural systems that can victimize us.”