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PETER DALE SCOTT: REVIEWS OF SECULUM: A TRILOGY

(Overviews of Coming to Jakarta, Listening to the Candle and Minding the Darkness)

John Peck, "Seeing Things as They Are," Notre Dame Review 31, Winter/Spring 2011, 239-52: Scott's Seculum is one of the essential long poems of the past half century, in three books (Coming to Jakarta: a Poem about Terror [1988], Listening to the Candle: A Poem on Impulse [1994], and Minding the Darkness: A Poem for the Year 2000 [2000]). Essential, too, because it attempts to resolve tensions which I suspect the public for poetry will subtly misread. Explicit grief-work over the civic failure to take stock of systemic political crimes, and the forensic sleuth’s pursuit of resolution through Buddhist mind-train ing practice (vipassana or come-what-may seeing), stand ready in Scott’s framing of his large triptych--a contemplative epic--to prompt from many an unquestioning nod of the head. So too, for many of the same readers, his activist tie to Romantic imagination, especially in Wordsworth and Shelley, against contemporary brands of aestheticism,...

Poetry Foundation: "Scott's poetry reflects his "uniquely broad" experiences, to quote a Publishers Weekly reviewer. Autobiographical elements blend with a wide knowledge of other poets' works, as well as with the author's concerns about government misdeeds, to create poems of "uninhibited yet crafted exploration," in the words of the same reviewer. Regarding Coming to Jakarta: A Poem about Terror, Times Literary Supplement reviewer Thom Gunn wrote, "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. . . . Such a structure makes for a work of great richness and complexity." Roger Mitchell, writing in American Book Review about Listening to the Candle: A Poem on Impulse, commented, "It is in their intentions and in their sense of form and language that . . . [Coming to Jakarta and Listening to the Candle] are most original." Mitchell felt that Scott's "manner of writing . . . is perhaps best described by a definition of the word 'entropy' contained in" Listening to the Candle: "[T]hat state of grace // when the words are free / to write themselves." American Poetry Review critic Alan Williamson commended Scott for the way he tackles his topics in the poem. Williamson stated, "Whether the issue is the role of linguistic error in early childhood memories, New Historicist misgivings about the ethics of Spenser and Shakespeare, or the value of sexual liberationism, Scott has a charming way of moving through both sides of any argument." Williamson maintained that "no book in recent memory is more venturesome in its intellectual voyages than this one; yet one of its most attractive qualities is its dogged humanism." Mitchell concluded in his American Book Review article that Scott has "given us a remarkable picture, not so much of the world, . . . but of the mind."
A Publishers Weekly contributor, after calling Scott "one of America's most trenchant political researchers," commended Minding the Darkness: A Poem for the Year 2000 as "most compelling when the book learning moves to the periphery and personal experience and thought come together in moments of simple, unflinching resolve."

Roger Mitchell, American Book Review, December 1993-January 1994, 25-27: "There is nothing quite like these books [Jakarta and Candle], despite their acknowledged heritage in the tradition of the personal epic....It is in their intentions and in their sense of form and language that these works are most original....Some sort of spiritual composure is at the center of his thinking. That composure is related to the manner of the writing, which is perhaps best described by a definition of the word `entropy' contained in it: `that state of grace//when the words are free/ to write themselves.'....Scott...has pushed on that particular frontier of writing and given us a remarkable picture, not so much of the world...but of the mind....Scott's trilogy, only two thirds completed as yet, is certain to be one of the most remarkable and challenging works of our time."

David Gewanter, Chicago Review, Fall 1998, 19-23: "Peter Dale Scott's Coming to Jakarta ...offers a crystalline example of how a single, vast yet remote disaster...can provide the fixed center for the most obsessive and personal of epics....In Scott's work, the epic shows the capaciousness to pursue the causes of disaster, and the moral intensity to make accusations without shirking its author's and its audience's complicity with the accused....[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."

Roger Mitchell, Chicago Review, Fall 1998, 36-40: "Coming to Jakarta is, like the Divine Comedy, one of the most unusual political poems ever written....Scott's [Listening to the Candle] frees him of the tyranny of fact and allows his whole mind...to muse. An open field esthetics replaces rational argument....Scott evolves an art of...a self which has `lost the dream of controlling darkness.'...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."

Charles Guenther, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 11/29/92: "`Listening to the Candle' and its earlier companion volume may yet be recognized among the masterpieces of our time in narrative poetry."

Tikkun, XVII, 2, March-April 2002: "No other contemporary poet enacts the values of Tikkun to a greater degree or with a keener intelligence than Peter Dale Scott, in his Seculum trilogy. At once transparently available in the range of poetic speech and intricately built-up in the far-reaching web of its asociative network, this trilogy achieves more for the ambition of poetry as a form of political and spiritual investigation than perhaps any poem in the last twenty-five years. Ranging among ancient sacred and secular works, journalism, conversation, autobiography, and contemporary literature, Scott uses a collage method that honors the ambitious complexities of the modernists, while avoiding their opaque difficulties."

David MacGregor, Socialist Studies Bulletin, 67 (Summer 2002), 43: "These are political poems, devastating in insight, rich in human possibility...."

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!!

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.

Ron Dart, "Peter Dale Scott: The meeting of poetry, prose and politics," Clarion Journal of Spirituality and Justice, May 19, 2008: "There is no doubt that Peter Dale Scott is one of the most important Canadian political poets. His merging of the personal, mystical and political has much to commend it. Many is the subtle parry and thrust in both the poetry and prose. Scott’s epic poetry challenges the classical notion of epic poetry as a servant of power just as his analysis of the deep politics of American and domestic and foreign policy lays bare the real facts of the empire. Do read this genius of a Canadian poet."