Listening to the Candle Essay - Critical Essays

Peter Dale Scott

Listening to the Candle

COMING TO JAKARTA: A POEM ABOUT TERROR, the first volume in Peter Dale Scott’s trilogy, was published in Canada in 1988 and in the United States in 1989. A former diplomat and longtime professor of literature at the University of California at Berkeley, the Canadian-born Scott has followed two passions: He is a poet and a political activist. In fact, “activist” is a misleading term; rather like Noam Chomsky, Scott is a counter-historian, one who presents accounts of recent history that are radically at odds with what might be called the official version. (He has written extensively about international drug trafficking, for example, alleging deep involvement of the CIA in the drug trade.)

Part of the interest of COMING TO JAKARTA and now of LISTENING TO THE CANDLE lies in the way in which Scott brings together subjects which are usually kept in separate compartments. Just as important, though, is the distinctive form that he has devised for this work-in-progress. Like its predecessor, LISTENING TO THE CANDLE is written in tercets; Scott’s short lines have a propulsive rhythm, enhanced by the complete absence of periods (Scott uses question marks and the occasional exclamation point) and the very sparing use of capitalization to mark the beginning of a new unit of thought. Never gratuitous, these devices and other complementary strategies engage and focus the reader’s attention. Here too, as in COMING TO JAKARTA, Scott’s words are interwoven with quotations from a rich diversity of voices, the sources of which are identified in marginal glosses.

Ultimately LISTENING TO THE CANDLE is a religious poem, though its eclectic, Buddhist-influenced vision resists the traditional associations of “religion” (largely reduced to caricature here). Whether or not one shares Scott’s deliberately tentative conclusions, the experience of seeing the world through his eyes is not to be missed.

Sources for Further Study

Books in Canada. XXI, September, 1992, p. 46.

Publishers Weekly. CCXXXIX, August 10, 1992, p. 66.