Towards the Primeval Lightning Field

By Will Alexander


Litmus Press, O Books
Original Language(s)
Additional Credits
Cover art by Will Alexander
Design by HR Hegnauer
Art, Hybrid Forms, Literary Non-Fiction, Poetics, Poetry
Edition, Year
Second Edition, 2014
In Print

Now available as a second edition with a new preface from the author, Will Alexander’s Towards The Primeval Lightning Field (O Books, 1998) is a work of “vertical philosophy” revealing the strata of cultures and language, like geological layers seen all at once. These essays comprise Alexander’s “search for origins outside the warrens of the visible,” revealing a singular imagination that moves with the force of a manifesto and the impossible dexterity of the unknown. Alexander’s virtuoso arpeggios of linguistic realms explore language and perceiving, and resonate far beyond the constrictions of the rational world.

Will Alexander
Born in 1948, Will Alexander is a poet, novelist, essayist, playwright, visual artist and pianist. He was the recipient of a Whiting Fellowship for Poetry in 2001 and a California Arts Council Fellowship in 2002. He was also ... Read More

Will Alexander talks about his early immersion in the work of John Coltrane and its abiding connection to his own jazz-process/Surrealist poetry and discusses his “constellation” of mythological and scientific sources, the influence of Aimé Césaire on his work, the politics of his poetic form via resistance to colonization, the role of the black poet in America, the necessity of performance, and his aim to bring the reader into a state of “supra-mind.”

— Charles Bernstein, Close Listening


The old chronological towers are ash, are prisms of disfigurement, symbolic of a world cancelled by consumptive inmelodias. As for alchemical transition, we face the raising of new sea walls, of banished and re-engendered electorates, trying to cope with new intensities of weather, as the anomalous hypnotically increases with the power of inverse subjective.

— Will Alexander, from Towards the Primeval Lightning Field at The Poetry Foundation


Praise for Towards The Primeval Lightning Field

His work resembles no one’s, and is instantly recognizable. In part, he is an ecstatic surrealist on imaginal hyperdrive. He is probably the only African-American poet to take Aimé Césaire as a spiritual father…. [Alexander] is a poet whose ecstasy derives from the scientific description of the stuff and the workings of the world.

— Eliot Weinberger

If the quotidian amounts to little more than a dossier of unitary suffering, then Will Alexander’s visionary essays commence the ignition of evolution beyond inclemency. Césaire, Lorca, Cheikh Anta Diop, non-European philosophy and cosmology, alchemical and anti-statist traditions: all animate this work; its range is incomparable. André Breton wrote that for surrealism “life is elsewhere”; Towards the Primeval Lightning Field takes us in pleasure and terror along the way to that range, shimmering beyond grim power, “where the waters and suns are both kindled by splendour.”

— Barry Maxwell

Will Alexander is by far the most original poet working in the United States today. A major force in the dissemination of surrealism, there is absolutely no one who sounds like Alexander, and he, most emphatically sounds like no one else.

— Justin Desmangles, Amerarcana 5

This is a book of first philosophy. Whose telos is not the reconstruction of knowledge, but its (necessarily furious) production.

—Andrew Joron, from the Introduction

I love the way that reading Will is like looking into Cornell’s boxes: personal and isolate spaces evolve into a silvery science—and plunge through the eye of eternity. Cold black.

— Fanny Howe

Will Alexander is our alchemist. We are his raw materials.

— Andrei Codrescu

The desire in such writing is for a paradise of language, for the creation in language of a reality that uses particles that ignite new constellations as they foment interlocking nonsequitor constellations that ignite new constellations as they burst.

Clayton Eshleman

Will Alexander’s Towards the Primeval Lightning Field transfigures “thought” into a weave of lexical magic.

— Philip Lamantia

We Also Recommend

The Arab Apocalypse
By Etel Adnan
Animate, Inanimate Aims
By Brenda Iijima
By Sianne Ngai

Dedicated support from individual readers like you funds our day-to-day operations and enables the programming we undertake in direct service to the visionary writers and artists whose works we champion.