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BLASER, ROBIN (1925- ) While Robin Blaser claims that 1955 marks the beginning of his lifelong career as a poet ("The Fire" 242), from as early as the late 1940s, he—along with Robert duncan and Jack spicer—played an integral part in the Berkeleybased SAN Francisco renaissance. During this period he and Spicer formulated a poetics of what they came to call "seriality"—a formulation that expressed aesthetic, political, social, and ethical concerns. Widely acknowledged as a seminal development in 20th-century American poetry, Blaser's engagement with the serial poem (see long and serial poetry) has influenced both American poets (such as Robert creeley, Charles bernstein, Susan howe, Charles olson, and Louis zukofsky) and Canadian poets (such as bpNi-chol, George Bowering, and Daphne Marlatt) (see Canadian poetic influences). However, despite such a wide-ranging influence, the combination of Blaser's densely packed, philosophically informed writing with his dual citizenship (Blaser is still viewed as a writer who is "indigenous" to neither the united states nor canada) is generally acknowledged as the most obvious reason for the lack of critical acclaim for his work.
Born in Denver, colorado, Blaser spent his childhood with his father and grandmother in small communities throughout Idaho. After briefly attending Northwestern university and the college of idaho, Blaser began a nine-year-long education at the university of California in 1944. He left Berkeley in 1955 with a M.A. and M.L.s. to take up a position in the Widener Library at Harvard. It was at this point that Blaser began to establish himself as a poet separate from his Berkeley counterparts; as he writes in "The Fire" (1967), "I have worked since 1955 to find a line which will hold what i see and hear, and which will tie a reader to the poems, not to me" (242). in the period between his stay in Boston and his acceptance of a position at simon Fraser university in British columbia in 1966, Blaser published his first significant works: The Moth Poem (1964) and Les Chimères: Translations of Nerval for Fran Herndon (1965). Thereafter his work is marked by the piecemeal publication of the major serial poem Image-Nation (1962-93), which eventually appears alongside other individual poems in Syntax (1983) and Pell Mell (1988). To date, the culmination of Blaser's publication history has been the appearance of The Holy Forest (1993), which contains most of his major work from 1956 to 1993.
Even a cursory glance at The Holy Forest reveals the foundational importance of the serial poem; works, such as Image-Nations (1962-93), The Truth Is Laughter (1979-88), and Great Companions (1971 and 1988), appear all throughout and enable Blaser continually to work out the correspondences and contradictions between crucial issues, such as the imaginary and the real, self and other, and public and private. In fact the serial poem is a process-oriented form used to make manifest relationships among the verse segments and to allow these relationships to emerge in such a way that denies lyric control and allows the poem to take on a life of its own.
In the poems of Image-Nation, image—the image as a nation and the nation as an image—is one of the dominant tropes through which Blaser explores such relations. As he writes in "Particles" (1969), "Greek and Roman political experience argues that to act intelligently in the public realm requires a vision of things. The words themselves, vision and things, are telling. Vision, full of that sense of seeing and image, which [is] basic to knowing" (36). Images, as the source of vision, then, are necessary to present knowledge (of public, private, political, social, and linguistic life) and future action—without which we are left homeless, living out less-than-human lives: "as the image wears away / there is a wind in the heart." Drawing from the work of philosophers Hannah Arendt, Alfred North Whitehead, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Michel Serres, Blaser is able to bring a constellation of sometimes conflicting poetic concerns to his notion of image to tease out the nature of our single and twin existence. In "Image-Nation 2 (roaming" a scare-marked "'you'" first sees an image of a burning horse, which then transforms into a flaming eye and a charred log; however, while "'you'" sees, "'you'" refuses to take on the larger task of seeing: visioning the world. Because of the dangers inherent in moving from a superficially named position (a 'you' who merely observes, never to become "you" or "I") to a position that is both named and lived, "'you'" refuses participation in the public world: "turned by that privacy / from such public perils as words / are, we travel in company with the messenger." A powerful influence on Blaser's address of the public and the private is Arendt, who argues in The Human Condition (1958) that the loss of the public world means the loss of both our sense of singularity and difference and the world we hold in common. Blaser, however, wants to be clear that—guided by a poetics of "roaming"—the public world and its words are always there to be taken up again, to be read and written once more. As he writes in "Image-Nation 15 (the lacquer house": "the point is transformation of the theme—/ enjoinment and departure —."
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