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)
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Thom Gunn [same review, unpublished final paragraph]: "The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
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
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.”