Blithewold Dendron, an American poet with whom you may or probably may not be familiar, occupied the peculiar position known in rugby circles as "fore-back", which is to say, he was both ahead and behind his own times. Ahead, in the sense that his nation and generation had yet to discover his unparalleled works; and in the same sense, behind. Tall, lanky, with a bronze forehead and a somewhat brassy left arm (his writing arm), Dendron was more likely to be taken for a youthful Midwestern gas station attendant than a major American poet (and not only because his main source of income was his full-time employment as a gas station attendant at North Plummet Shell, in North Plummet, North Dakota; the fact is, he simply looked like what a gas station attendant would look like). His voice was dry and clear, if halting - like the sound of a small table saw doing diagonals through cedar knotholes. One shoulder slumped slightly lower than the other, the result of an early collision with an oncoming older sister (Sandra Grumbach, nee Dendron). His reading style was mixed; but that's neither here nor there.
Why do we look, paradoxically, to Dendron, today? Vast and diverse have been the critical speculations on this question. Some scholars have emphasized Dendron's "enigmatic ear" : he could calculate the tempo of a nuthatch in flight at a distance of 400 yards. Others have remarked upon his tendency to present literary themes with uncanny foresight, as in his poem "Treetops", which predicted global warming (in pantoum form) as early as 1962. But Dendron himself explained what he called his "invisible fame" in a very different way. In a short essay titled "Shell Man" (1997), he writes :
"I never wanted to be a poet. All my poems are about something else. They are the traces of a constant effort to escape poetry. All I wanted to do was turn poetry inside out. Not into anti-poetry - I'm not an anti-poet : just something else. What I write about is a huge secret. It is literally, exactly, completely, utterly inexplicable. That's why trying to write it down is self-defeating, and why I'm constantly trying to escape my fate. This is why my fame is invisible, and why the world at large dismisses me, ignores my work. Because, unlike all the famous and successful poets, I'm trying to run away from poetry in the very act of writing it. The sight of a poem, a poem which fulfills all the conventions of a pleasing and successful artifact in contemporary style, is, for me, frightening, abhorrent : it's as if I'm looking at a looming jail cell built specifically for me. Whereas my heart - deep at some occluded level, beyond my reach - is seeking something else, or someone else; not the poem, not poetry, not even the shadow of poetry, but something outside them. I suffer from a kind of literary claustrophobia, a subconscious fear of capture. That's the explanation for my continual disappearance."
Jacqueline Semblanche, the Harvard critic, has written this of Dendron : "he out-formalized the Formalists; he out-experimented the Experimentalists; he out-sang the Lyricists; he out-did the Didactics. His miniature lyrics, his enormous epic sequences, float within a dimension exponentially distinct from all his contemporaries. He surpasses them to a degree such that he cannot be heard at all, like a sound vibration pitched beyond human hearing. And how did he achieve this? By writing about something else; by transcending poetry itself."
Today, in semi-retirement from the gas station, the folksy Dendron can be found on the front porch of his modest 1-person bungalow in North Plummet. Like a war vet, he doesn't like to talk much about his experiences in literature; but he does enjoy telling jocular just-so stories of local doings in Plummet and environs - which, to the acute listener, might be interpreted as parables of poetry. And someday, far in the future and/or past, the world will start to listen.