Home Among the Swinging Stars: Collected Poems of Jaime de Angulo edited by Stefan Hyner with an essay by Andrew Schelling
(La Alameda Press, Albuquerque, 2006)
NEVER A PROFESSION
Jaime de Angulo never settled down to any one specific identity. His writings and life correspond best to the rugged, diverse Northern California landscape itself. A foreigner (born in 1887 France to Spanish expatriates) de Angulo was drawn by the locale and people of the American West. He roamed about scraggly coastal cliffs and followed the wanderings of native tribes across the central valleys, recording their language and music, along with writing narrative prose accounts and tales of their lifestyle and social organization. In addition to working as a vaquero and managing his own ranch property, de Angulo had brief flirtations with the early stages professional anthropology which later placed him in a struggle of contested legitimacy of his own practices against a more traditional academic approach. However, he was fated, it seems, to know no real peace – and desire none – that was not active in nature. His personal tendencies clearly favored the habits of native people, who maintained a life living between the spiritual and the worldly, over the distanced perspective of study balanced by discussion in classroom and university office.
De Angulo often wrote about how the spirit of an individual might become consumed by ‘wandering’ a term of the Pit River Indian Tribe for one who has lost the path to a stable life and is forced by inner turmoil to live apart from others for a time, often demonstrating unstable behavior.
I climb the mountain.
I am looking for a crater lake.
Don’t anybody follow me, I am in trouble.
I must sing my bitterness to the lake,
There is no pretension to de Angulo’s poetry. His writing is direct, immediate expression. Poem and life are equalized. The majority of his poems originate from later in his life, after his various stints at professions and attempts at family life, when he was living a solitary existence.
Sun going down thru the Golden Gate
earlier and earlier every day
lighting this room where canaries
live with an old man
Berk MARCH 50
These poems are often fragmentary epistles to the world, drawn from his correspondence with friends and family. It was Ezra Pound who pushed to get de Angulo’s prose into print, some of the only recognition achieved for it in his lifetime. De Angulo also occasionally wrote his verses in French (for which editor Stefan Hyner provides English translations.)
C’est Noel, il pleut sur San Francisco,
sur les trottoirs la foule
et moi j’m’ennuie à la fenêtre.
It’s Christmas, it’s raining in San Francisco
on the sidewalks the crowd
is amusing itself
and I, I’m at the window, bored.
LETTER to Ezra Pound
Dec 25 48
Though de Angulo’s poems often dwell upon solitary wanderings and broodings they are not necessarily by nature depressive. De Angulo found solace from attentive listening to teachings of ‘Indian doctors’ of the tribes he travelled and spent time with. These teachings were often stories and almost always arose from specific occurrences and feature totem animals and characters (such as Coyote) that may come to guide and guard the spirit of an individual. De Angulo’s poems adopt the stance and speak on behalf of such spiritual companions, often mirroring ritual chants and stories he heard from ‘Indian doctors.’
I never was a man.
I kill men.
In the shadow of the bush I kill men.
I the panther who never was a man.
I the panther will come tonight.
These beliefs are strong among the tribes and de Angulo looked towards them for possible remedies to his own troubles.
i did you wrong
but I paid for it
you of the nilotic profile
beautiful as a serpent
blank panther in the night
with long slanting eyes
you did me wrong
and you paid for it
hell for us both
you died in prison
and i am alone
with my pain
wherever you be
figure from an archaic tomb
you may now smile
By embracing the totem, de Angulo redirected personal torment. Jungian theory borrows from similar material but de Angulo ultimately rejected such ego-visualization of the intellect and the body. When he lived amongst a tribe he participated as a member of the community, refraining from expressing personal judgment. His poems are the ultimate demonstration of the purity and devotional nature of his study of the people who truly own the West.
Old Kate’s Medicine Song
Without a body I am
i am the song
Without a head I am
i am the head
i am the head without song
i am rolling down the hill
De Angulo loses himself in his poems. They do not point back at him but always away from him. Directing the reader’s eyes out into the world about them, to observe and value what’s going on out there beyond one’s own person. Jaime de Angulo’s poems are floated from the hearth.
to the memory of Bob Callahan
Patrick James Dunagan lives in San Francisco and works at the library of USF. Recent reviews have appeared in Artvoice (Buffalo), St. Mark's Poetry Project Newsletter, and Jacket. Poems recently appeared in Cannibal and One Less Magazine.