From Scratch is a suite of sinewy new poems, each exploring a station on one poet’s way toward self-creation. Here is the growth of Clayton Eshleman’s creative psyche from mud-caked Midwestern taproot to mature cosmopolitan flower, from inchoate youth to subtle mythologist of the caveman and of Paleolithic consciousness (“a single smoking road runs from Indianapolis to Lascaux!”). Here are hymns of praise for the great image-makers of the late Ice Age and to their modern descendants (Soutine, de Kooning, Nora Jaffe); here too are tributes to the master-spirits of the poet’s inner life (Blake, Vallejo, Artaud).
Eshleman’s is a highly individual poetry, yet one that demonstrates how each of us belongs, not just to our self, but also to those numberless selves who’ve gone before and to the collective human consciousness that underlies all our thoughts.
One is tempted to think of Eshleman as the H. P. Lovecraft of postmodernist poetry. His images possess a disquieting sense of actuality, of being alive. They are not, however, merely sensationalistic effects but are symptoms of a state of mind, incarnations of psychic events. The anguish and ecstasies of an unquenchable thirst for more life, of a depth psychology based on an archetypal perspective. A movement out of ego into psyche. A movement out of the egg of circumscribed subjectivity into the timeless labyrinths of the underworld.
—John Olson, American Book Review