Clayton Eshleman was born Ira Clayton Eshleman Jr. on June 1, 1935, in Indianapolis, Indiana. He is the only child of Gladys and Clayton Eshleman, both Presbyterians, and from midwestern backgrounds (Eshleman himself believes that “Eshleman” is based on “ash” as in “ash tree,” and that he is a wee bud on the world tree, Yggdrasill). He was brought up to be a racist, and to identify only with people who looked like him (he was, for example, forbidden to play with children whose mothers wore slacks away from home). His mother started him on piano lessons when he was 6, and at about the same time he discovered imagination via comic strips and books. He began to listen to bebop as a teenager (Bud Powell especially), and hang out in Indianapolis blues clubs. After graduating from Shortridge High School in 1953 (where he ran track, wrestled, and played right end on the football team), he entered Indiana University, as a music major and as a pledge to the Phi Delta Theta fraternity. The summer of 1954 he spent in Los Angeles, parking cars for a living and hanging out in jazz clubs at night (he also studied jazz piano briefly with Marty Paitch and Richie Powell). Upon returning to Indiana University that fall, he dropped out of music school and, at his father’s urging, entered Business School. He does not recall much of the following two years. In 1956 he was thrown out of school for a combination of poor grades and excessive campus parking tickets, at which time he moved out of the fraternity into a series of rooms and shared apartments in Bloomington and returned to school in 1957 as a Philosophy Major. He also took some creative writing workshops and American poetry courses, and for the first time in his life, something really took hold: poetry.
To hear how Eshleman’s story continues, visit his site.