the pitiless dahlberg


He grew up in Missouri, the son of a lady barber. And in order to get a flavor of the man one must read lines like these, describing the orphanage where he spent childhood time:

They were a separate race of stunted children who were clad in famine. Swollen heads lay on top of ashy uniformed orphans. Some had oval or oblong skulls; others gigantic watery occiputs that resembled the Cynocephali described by Hesiod and Pliny. The palsied and the lame were cured in the pool of Bethesda, but who had enough human spittle to heal the orphans’ sore eyes and granulated lids.

Dahlberg talked and wrote like this. Unlike Charles Olson, whom he’d met at Harvard and whose work would always return to postwar Eurpoean philosophy and American politics, the autodidactic Dahlberg had identified with the proletarian underground since the twenties—and with ancient texts; he went into seven years of withdrawal from writing to study these. His first book, Bottom Dogs, had an introduction by D.H. Lawrence. After his withdrawal, he renounced his former self, his politics, everyone he knew, almost all men who aspired to write, and his early works.

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