The Moth Poem

The Moth Poem is Robin Blaser’s first book publication, which was preceded by a broadside printed by Auerhahn Press in 1963. I love this chapbook format which is perfect for the serial poem. Spicer’s work of the period published by Auerhahn and White Rabbit provide the model, along with Robert Duncan’s groundbreaking Medieval Scenes.

The first edition of The Moth Poem was printed in December 1964 in an edition of 300 copies. A second edition followed in May 1965, right before the Vancouver Poetry Conference in June. Blaser read The Moth Poem at the conference and no doubt copies were distributed in Vancouver. The Robert Creeley library on the Granary Books site has Creeley’s copy of The Moth Poem with a tipped in letter from Persky from April 1965. The second edition has collaged endpapers and is marked as a second edition on the colophon.

The Moth Poem with the gray wrappers and the endpapers is a moth itself when opened to be read. The gray covers suggest the wings of the common gray moth and the front and back endpapers have illustrated moth wings on them. In twelve copies of the first edition, the endpapers were hand painted and I like to think that they were painted to look like Death’s Head Hawkmoth with all the associations to death and evil that that moth has in legend and mythology.
The work of Dante and the image of the moth are just two of the threads that hold this serial poem together. The Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso tie into the image of the moth at various points. In the Inferno, Ulysses resides in the eighth circle of hell for falsifiers and he is encased in a flame and surrounded by others in flame. Dante (and Blaser), entranced by the tales of Ulysses’s adventures, is drawn to Ulysses and the seductive power of language like a moth. The image of the moth trapped in a window pane suggests Purgatorio. Finally the illustration by Gustave Dore of the angels ascending to Paradise again draws on the image of the moth gathering around a flame.

The front flap of The Moth Poem contains an illustration of a tree, which calls to mind the dark wood at the beginning of The Inferno as well as Blaser’s later work The Holy Forest. The musical notation of Pythagoras’s harmony of the spheres adorns the back flap suggesting the musical structure of the serial poem, such as a movement in composition.
The Moth Poem is deceptively simple in appearance but on closer examination it is as rich with associations as the text of Blaser’s dense serial poem itself, which is as it should be. A fine first effort by Open Space Books and a wonderful design and print job by Mackintosh and company.
- JB


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