Review of Celtic Blood, Selected Poems by Philip Daughtry, New Native Press, 1995, $9.95 ISBN: 883197-0508, PO Box 661, Cullowhee, NC 28723
Poet appointed dare not decline / to walk among the bogus ...—Basil Bunting, Briggflats
In Celtic myth, a man engages in the quest for higher consciousness by following the lure of a deer into an unfamiliar landscape where upon the deer is transformed into a beautiful woman, the queen of the fairies. The man enters into this transformative process with no intention; this life adventure is given to him. The adventure is his if he is open to the possibilities of this unknown process. And with no determined intent, if he be open, a true transformation takes place.
For the poet, the journey outward is a journey inward; it is a language journey. But he, too, must be open to the unknown, the hope of transformation into a higher, truer, consciousness. But given these times, our times, a poetic transformation becomes necessarily problematic. Money has turned the unfamiliar landscape into theme parks. The deer are hunted as trophies. The beautiful woman can be seen on MTV licking the books of some rock star. And poetry is driven far beyond the margins of where our lives connect with others in Beauty. The poet who is assured of his powers and confident of effecting an audience is a fool. In such times as ours, confusion is the only way to effect a transfusion of energy. And the way is of indirection and subterfuge. The poet writes and mistrusts writing. The author-ity of writing is the Police. So the poet looks to Orality. The poetry maker seeks the Deer only at night when the Poetry Police are not alert. Philip Daughtry indicates as much with his poem “Ecology”:
In a small town called Anywhere ... / A doe wanders across a parking lot / nosing into smelly dumpsters / and storefront doorways, her watery shadow across the blacktop. / In the morning the town awakens. /The deer is gone./ No one knows she was there./ Even the sleepy security guard/ who watched her all night long.
According to the chronology of these poems and the statements by Daughtry’s admirers who sing his praises on the back cover of Celtic Blood, he has been a seeker all of his days, from North England to a Canada Cree Indian Reservation, New York City, San Francisco, Sierra Mountains, Hollywood. The way of the poet is to maintain the balance necessary to walk the wire above this wasteland / fairy land and still record the journey. This is the way of a Celtic trickster, the poet as Drago-man. As Sharon Doubiago says on the back cover: “For me, this drago-man was there at the beginning, as Philip Suntree (alias Kid Nigredo), poet extraordinaire, coyote, trickster, wizard of words.... ” He journeys everywhere to get back to his beginning. All the while of his travels the poet is pulled back, back to his Celtic origin, Celtic Blood. And what is this pull?
According to Barbara Mor’s Great Cosmic Mother, “The Celts did not own slaves or believe in capital punishment. Their tribal councils were attended and often presided over by women, and their inheritance of property and also kingship was matrilineal” (258). Language pulls this poet into a different world, a world lost and to be reclaimed through poetry. Daughtry seeks balance, hence the Ecology poem, balance by his Presence in the world of his poetry. These are poems of presence, of writing from being-there. And in spite of Derrida —and the academic embrace of in-action that his writings sanction (is it any surprise that Derrida is the darling of the universities, the Poetry Police, those who preach the Gospel of in-action at any price?) presence counts. It counts, as Olson showed us, as Stance. You under-stand your poetry by being-there in the formation of it. It matters that poets write out their knowledge, and their knowledge comes from their body. As Daughtry says of it, “I hasten history; hoarded ferocity” (99)
We have adopted the Brazil-ianization of our economy but not “Brazil’s favella danceocracy.” We can’t dance because we are loaded down with debt or dollars, equally inimical to the Spirit. Daughtry is attempting to show us how to get back, back to a time when life was a Dance. His journey took him home to grandfather (“Big Wombhearted Man”), father (“For My Father...”), miners (“Pit Ponies” and “Doon Pit”), home to his wife’s home-birth (“Home Birth”), home to his original language. Several of the poems are in dialect and translated for us who are not at home there. The dialect poems of the “Celtic Blood” section keep the Language of poetry foremost, not the Ideas about the language of poetry or, worse yet, poetry about the language of the Ideas of poetry.
Bobi Jones (Professor Emeritus Welsh Language and Literature, University of Wales) quotes on back:
These poems are redolent of bones and blood and the past, reminiscent of Celtic roots coming from the Northeast of England in such Welsh poets as Taliesin, Aneirin and Caedom. Some of these poems of the 1980’s are in dialect, with the genuine aroma and taste of real soil. They all throb with specific concreteness, realized experience and critical intelligence. Philip Daughtry is, to quote his own words, ‘linage-daft.’ At a time when much verse has become rather rootless and pointless, the feel and passion of going down an ancient pit to fetch up beautiful lines like these bring a strong transfusion of ‘Celtic Blood’.
Daughtry is also, in my own words, ‘language-daft.’ His Celtic poems give us a new language by returning us to the Old language of pit, womb, body, myth. What is at stake for us, what we have lost and what we have to gain is given best in his Wiccae poem:
A lang time ago
men in black
dragged our wyrd lasses oot
an threw them on a fire.
They lay hewn timbers on the fire too
aye, even used Jesus’ cross
Ye can still see the ashes
floating doon the gutters
littering mountain trails
wounding the clearest streams.
The male self-hatred that leads to the subjection of women is intimately connected to Christianity, the religion (like Islam and Judaism) that traces its origins to Abraham, the Patriarch who was ready and willing to kill his son and who destroyed the goddess, Sarah, his wife, the Laughing Goddess. This poem should be required reading for the Bly inspired men’s groups, Bly who Daughtry thanks for support and guidance. And Bly has a blurb on the back cover: “This is a powerful book that mingles bardic language, mythological imagination, and the American landscape.” But Bly, though a great showman, is a lesser poet than Daughtry. I read the newspaper of August 6, 95: “Men pack stadiums to sing Christ’s praises”: 50,000 men pay $55 each to attend the Promise Keepers assembly led by ex- U of Col football coach, promising to love Jesus, go to church on Sundays, and read the Bible as divinely inspired. But mainly to “exercise leadership in their homes.” The men’s groups Bly birthed won’t act as a counter force to these of the ex-coach; but the language of the poetry of Daughtry just might.
Like all New Native Press books, this is expertly designed and printed. Poets are treated as they deserve to be by New Native, a press that just might become the New Directions for our times.