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Robert Mueller: On the Poetry of Mary Orovan

Robert Mueller: On the Poetry of Mary Orovan


From Mary Orovan a Touch of e.e. cummings if You Like

by Robert Mueller

These Elective Affinities, what are they?  You do not have to believe ce personnage distingué in Goethe’s novel who has a way of explaining things.  Thus der Hauptmann, supreme intellect with superb practical bent, can speak of a situation to which his old friend the Baron (and spouse) have invited him.  Put, or putting himself, in charge, he can explore it fully, and in the new relations as he finds them discuss and explain fully.  The upshot is that the Wahlverwandtschaften of the novel’s title relate analogically to any sort of relations, such as salts and acids, where the expelled element sinks back down and is recuperated.  Similarly, the main actors in the tale, four in number, may cross in their quadrant of attraction and distancing to express their wishes and their choices.
But you need not be so schematic about it.  You may make of your Elective Affinities what you want.  Free mating choices spring into action, and in Mary Orovan’s poem “Pornography in the Park”, another green light positive from her chapbook Green Rain (Poets Wear Prada, 2008), the couples are the delight, especially if ornithological and filial; are they and we:

And Pale Male and Lola,
    our City hawks, atop the Carlyle Hotel,
                  aerobatic display,
always Valentine’s day.

— Not her heart so much as her feeling them, as freely given, natural but not stumbling in the way, not there before, but more than natural, and “all over the City”.
The affinities are called forth, and that is how it meets the terms, when poems of this kind feel like the anthologized poem of e.e. cummings, “Darling! Because My Blood Can Sing” (in Modern Verse, ed. Oscar Williams (New York: Washington Square Press, 1954)).  Keeping first with Orovan’s poem, we note its abundance, not so obviously in its climaxing or even in singing, and not at all in cadencing, but, still grasswise, in flying off:

Edgy music in the Ramble
    wild timbres and rhythms
bird calls
                            bird calls
    birds answering
                    love on the fly everywhere.

I think it’s because the birds — hawks and grey owls, “puffed puffed pigeons / followingcirclingfollowing” — are “we”, and e.e. cummings’ delights — in expressive oddness, expressive joy — are likewise those of a shared choice, in all circumstances, including where “they . . . turn men’s see to stare”, and thus of a standing together and against.  They stand together against valuing war, as the poem crafts its own terms.  As a greater plus, it and they are in fact thrown together, even without the squeezing typical of cummings.  In Orovan’s phrasing, meanwhile, a turning in, a clasping of word to word, is equally natural, and part and parcel of confidence.  Where we unite with her inflections, we can sense the kinship, if we want it.  
And it is all to the good, this pressure of closeness crosswise implied in the one poet, demonstrated in the other.  In both, to press (or compress) the point, the feeling is affinities and delight, and they are together.  Here is cummings’ poem:

Darling! Because My Blood Can Sing

darling! because my blood can sing
and dance (and does with each your least
your any most very amazing now
or here) let pitiless fear play host
to every isn’t that’s under the spring
—but if a look should april me,
down isn’t’s own isn’t go ghostly they

doubting can turn men’s see to stare
their faith to how their joy to why
their stride and breathing to limp and prove
—but if a look should april me,
some thousand million hundred more
bright worlds than merely by doubting have
darkly themselves unmade makes love

armies (than hate itself and no
meanness unsmaller) armies can
immensely meet for centuries
and (except nothing) nothing’s won
—but if a look should april me
for half a when, whatever is less
alive than never begins to yes

but if a look should april me
(though such as perfect hope can feel
only despair completely strikes
forests of mind, mountains of soul)
quite at the hugest which of his who
death is killed dead.  Hills jump with brooks:
trees tumble out of twigs and sticks;

By dint of non-grammaticalities, by syntactical flips and by contextual re-encounterings (of another dimension), the poet serves his heart up to aggressive agreement.  The result is at once miraculous, comical and resurgent.  It is indeed alive, in other words.  It is Orphic and perhaps Medusal (in a good way), and more than natural; it is welling, angelic, in still other words.  But whom does the speaker, wholeheartedly and full-thronged with his partner and with his parti-colored partnering, take to himself more overarchingly than agreement itself, than affinities?  In no sense, however, is this wholesome banding of affinities a type of Baudelairean correspondence; just as in no sense (because the phrase that this pulsing and impulsive self-realizing triggers, “but if a look should april me”, itself makes no sense) is the poem a reaction.  It does not take place on a stage, either.  It has to do with causality, and who but poets can recognize that virus?  And who knew it?  And so it is spontaneous and always, and keeps going without period end.
Clearly the poet of Green Rain has been apriled.  Having always been, in this text anyway, in April, she stays, for “April”, with its truth, truth of brooding, breeding, always.  And thus following in the circle of this much more being, she must surely cede to this opening; she thus inclines to more than mere necessity:



We can’t hide from solace.

Everywhere we are swaddled

In the palest green of new buds

And baby grass.

Oh, my.  Yet Orovan’s best-looking green comes in the final poem of her chapbook, the title poem “Green Rain”.  From the brash and sunny “Apricot Trumpet Vines” to the precious detailing in gorgeous aroma cum nostalgia of the mallard life-cycle, the descriptions inflame in today’s voice, in one tempting possible choice.  The “second green coming” doubles dwindling light while nonetheless heralding its, the mallard’s, own April in September, as if a part of us, is if our own rebirths, our own “multiple visits”.  Indeed, each ovation to nature’s prattle-sparkle glows again, so that who can bear to undo this feeling in joyous company, as when

Dahlias, fuchsia meringue,
  sit atop
slicked mint purple stems,
  on their leaves,
bubbles rainbow in the sun

The truth is that we know what they are, and have no doubts.  Thus is Goethe’s sweet and sad novel Die Wahlverwandtschaften an appropriate nature hike in its attention to growing aspects and things.  In fact, you may not have to look beyond the first short chapter.  You come to know, quickly, these Elective Affinities.  By stroke of fortunate openings, the once-thwarted young lovers are found already in place.  If what it is is what it comes then to us, our novel is already at a new beginning and new amorous triumphing.  Our relations, their adult relations, their firmly won appreciating of organic growth and balancing, will show themselves already directing their actions, their choosing what you want.  And so right off you know many things about them, such as that, at the peak of his baronial career, our dear Eduard has too been apriled.  A sweetness starts with him, and he gets to get things going by going to meet his wife Charlotte, so that they can do what they would do, fully emphasized, as “we”.  In the meantime, it is Eduard at his best bringing the inclinations of the moment to their appearing promise.  He is, to paraphrase freely, brought to this end by April: “Eduard hatte in seiner Baumschule die schönste Stunde eines Aprilnachmittags zugebracht.”  
Let the telling out of the story lead to other circumstances, and does the Baron think to go round to his possessions to find his wife?  Nonetheless, let’s come to rest here.  Goethe, like cummings and Orovan in their better times, will heed the look of April, will find his choice and winning amends in the spirit of April.






Copyright© 2015 by Robert Mueller. All Rights Reserved.

Happy New Year, 2013!

Happy New Year, 2013!

We have new fiction from Lara Dolphin and Donal Mahoney, an essay by Robert Mueller, and new poetry by John Saunders. 2013 is off to a very good start.

*     *     *     *     *

 Watched a flawed by still interesting movie last year, “The Words.” It’s about a writer’s dilemma upon discovering a truly brilliant novel, in an old briefcase. He reads the novel and is stunned. His own writing career has hit a wall, and he’s on the edge of desperation. No one will publish his own novel, though editors have nice things to say about it. The consensus among them is it’s just not marketable.  Too “interior.”
He takes the found novel to a publisher without telling him he didn’t write it. It’s published and becomes a huge best seller and critical success.
So, what would you do? Would you make the found novel your own? Would you take it to a publisher but tell them that someone else wrote it? Get them to help you track down the writer, publicize it as the work of an unknown?
The tough part of that setup is that if you did the right thing, you’d probably kill any chance of a movie being made about your choices. Literature and film generally need real conflict, pivotal mistakes and wrong turns to create drama. It’s a rare work of art that manages to do without serious conflict and a struggle toward resolution. Though, of course, in the above scenario, that could come in the course of trying to find the author. Perhaps that would be its own new wrong road. The author turns out to be his real father, Darth Vader, and they fight to the death.
The movie also uses a novel within a novel frame, beyond its novel within a briefcase. A bit of post-modernism that works for me primarily on just one track. I found only one set of characters and their stories interesting or compelling — the couple who finds the briefcase, and the original writer and his real story — which points to the risk of using that method. Instead of letting foreground and background work in harmony, the movie chose to run parallel tracks, which were supposed to reinforce each other. Instead, for me, one story made the other seem impoverished in comparison.
Fiction and the life of the mind. Can it change lives? Can it bring lovers together and throw them apart? Can the failure to live up to one’s own dreams destroy that person and drive them to commit immoral, unethical acts? “The Words” provokes such questions, but ultimately fails to match their potential depth with a sufficient artistic structure or foundation.

Robert Mueller: Anna Shukeylo’s Urban Diaries

Robert Mueller: Anna Shukeylo’s Urban Diaries

How to Do Urban, by New Yorker of Choice

Two young women, art students, funnel into the bleak and lead-like dreary light of the subway car grasping in their hands, by the frames on which they have been crafted, smallish paintings (maybe 12 by 16).  Apparitions they are, the young artists, and holdings of the imagination, their finished images that I may never have the opportunity to observe again.
In New York City one can still think of opportunities not as tearless moments to rebuild upon destruction and demolition, but rather as the unexpected and normal continuance of spirit, (perhaps still) unlike any emanation of spirit anywhere else in the world.  An assertion of this kind cries out hotly to be contested, but it more or less stands, if the current exhibition of Anna Shukeylo’s Urban Diaries, at the Morningside Heights Branch of the New York Public Library through January 3, 2013, gives its indication.
Special people like to feel special by taking note of their surroundings.  Commonly people riding the subway trains in New York City take no notice of anyone around them, are not concerned about their subterranean existence.  Special people, especially in the dullness of these surroundings, do take note, but again by common agreement not so far as to talk to strangers, as is well and good.  You could talk about one of the paintings, however, because it was indeed special.  It displayed not exactly ground and foreground, but rather, when backed by the subway’s dim disinterestedness, more foreground, being the sharp colors of a musical instrument depicted on the canvas, against less foreground, the different oranges and peaches and reds arranged in geometrical blocks, just as music itself takes geometrical form, and especially that of the instrument depicted in this one artist’s mind, and spectacularly the nature of its realization of the music in frames known succinctly as “bars”.  As was obvious, the painting was, and is (though I may never study it again), special.  Being special admitted of compliments, even in the subway-train environment.  These pleased, and even where people are total strangers they could please, the comment or two that also elicited mild, and to be sure politely concealed, annoyance.
Of such trimmings of contrast and guardedness, Anna Shukeylo’s scenes in New York City include riding in subway cars populated by effaced and remotely and abstractly noted passengers.  As such, her tributes to meaninglessness are hardly special.  On their facelessness, they are not special.  The impersonality of her figuring, perhaps its anti-personality, would seem ever more extensively to be bred of an insight about urban living tired enough to make it unremarkable.  
Yet this assessment does not entirely hold.  You could call it a strategy, for there is pleasure indeed, and it lies in the coloristic patterns, even though similarly ranged from piece to piece.  Something in them stands out persuasively, as an effect to be special and to feel special in amongst all the drabness and the no doubt oppressive spiritual exhaustion thereof.  In other words, the colors stand out by seeping through, enriching themselves into interest and specialness and into some measure of sought-after New York City joy.  
With a couple of exceptions, the artist uses acrylic on mylar, and hence by way of screening and trickling the known impressions down, by way of everywhere glopping, or if not that forming, she discovers her technique for charging the urban experience, in a way that could only be New York.  That New Yorker’s bearing may be a claim (Ms. Shukeylo is from St. Petersburg), only one of a few good claims, for this exhibition of artworks at a local branch library, a claim that even if open to dispute takes part in being special.
The paintings sport a filmy surface, aqueous in its texture, that is apparent and much noticeable though not immediately appealing for all that.  Thus “Momentum”, by way of offering its comment on urban depiction, has a downward pull, and is about as remote and silted and sickly as you can get picturing platform and entombing tunnel, with deep feel of mausoleum.  At the same time a yellow streak flashes excitedly through the awareness of dreary prospect.  Yellow, not known particularly for being lively and cheerful, can of course be so and manages that quality here, with grand sweep and arching, asserting point.
The remoteness in “Wednesday”, not so very different, falls upon huddled ghostly figures preparing for an undefined beyond.  Thus the patchwork of vague forms haunts, is fearful as it traps you towards the left side of the frame, though here too with a relieving touch of yellow.  Elsewhere spreading patches and pools of yellow, and yellow paint strokes scratched a little ineptly and therefore a little glaringly across the scene, provide impetus.  Further relief comes from the balancing against the yellow of complementary colors violet and pink, where they spurt quite beautifully into the upper-right corner.  Such vivid blocks of color, if you will, appear out of the way but prominently.  Along the same border of the frame streaky and watery blues in emphatic and various shades drop into a quieting extension of the pool effect still dominated by yellow.  All of this placing of pools of color with their complements and contrasts gives the painting spirit and even its own kind of panache, but not a specialness of the kind that emerges in “Tuesday Morning”, a companion piece where Ms. Shukeylo uses a similar range of colors and likewise makes use of quieting shapes along the floor of the panel.
As subway scenes generally do, “Tuesday Morning” retains some subterranean feel of a blackened and morbid atmosphere, although the train seems to be travelling at an elevated stage of its journey.  In daylight regardless, the figures are effaced, and not a little scary, so that much is conveyed in the way of oppressive urban depicting, but in the pool-shapes that support the flooring a shifting movement from a dirty, dark blue to comforting aqua helps to create a balance against the patches of contesting colors.  One of these is a surprising red.  Nevertheless, it is again yellow, resting in other parts of the scheme, that holds the balance, and these moments of odd brightness, whereas not nearly as obtrusive or flashy as in “Wednesday” and “Momentum”, are elegantly placed, and serve toward a shaping, not quite a pattern but an engaged placement of sufficiently inspired ordering as to achieve the special, as if that were what the painting was about; and that is what it is about if we feel it, if in and through observing it we sometimes want to be special and feel special.
Thus in “Wednesday” it is a striking overall compositional balance that delivers specialness in and amongst the drab and the dreary.  And it does so with great success.  The artist, in New York City, wanting to be special and to feel special, as it might seem in these paintings, accomplishes her task for us as her viewers, even as her select viewers.  She, the exhibition, the spirit that lights them up in our special place, our landmark that is the Morningside Heights Branch of the New York Public Library, all find pleasure and a kind of glory by means of form, by putting the form and the assertion into it, by undertaking with exuberance, however unlikely for those who are not New Yorkers (we think), to make it special.
                New York City        
            December 2012
Copyright© 2013, by Robert Mueller. All Rights Reserved.
Robert Mueller has been a fre­quent con­trib­u­tor of essays and poems to this web­site jour­nal.  His poetry appears also online in Blackbox Manifold, Mad Hatters’ Review, Ink Node, Moria and else­where.  Of major print pub­li­ca­tions, there are poems by Robert Mueller in First Intensity and American Letters & Commentary, the lat­ter also pub­lish­ing reviews of his.  Having earned a Ph.D. in com­par­a­tive lit­er­a­ture from Brown University, he has con­tributed poetry reviews and essays to many pub­li­ca­tions, often bring­ing other lan­guages and thus also distantly-​​related texts and sources into the picture.

Robert Mueller: We Should be Yak Dancing

Robert Mueller: We Should be Yak Dancing


Yak Dance and Proscenium



makes the mention
of conglamourous totally
awesome by rope or practice tee.
Bruce Lee
doesn’t have a sweet
is a foolish anomaly
and we should never listen.
We are the bistrot
of concatenated overthrow
succeeding to Zeitlichkeit.
Fan, therefore, feathers in night.
As fragmentautilitarianism
please chisel hymn
giantly to the gods.
Next best, token bibulous
goosey fomentors
trammeled in gangling mimosas
terribly to twang odds.
So this is all.
The hips and the mods,
and so this is a suture.
So this is Christlike future
appending hollowly
to very tombs.




— by Robert Mueller


Copyright © 2012, by Robert Mueller. All Rights Reserved.


Robert Mueller has been a frequent contributor of essays and poems to this website journal.  His poetry appears also online in Blackbox Manifold, Mad Hatters’ Review, Ink Node, Moria and elsewhere.  Of major print publications, there are poems by Robert Mueller in First Intensity and American Letters & Commentary, the latter also publishing reviews of his.  Having earned a Ph.D. in comparative literature from Brown University, he has contributed poetry reviews and essays to many publications, often bringing other languages and thus also distantly-related texts and sources into the picture.



Live, From New York!

Live, From New York!

Well, not quite. But we do have an expressive report from Robert Mueller regarding his evening on the town and a concert performance of New York musicians/composers. As George Spencer mentions in the comments, Robert seems to sync his prose meter (quite naturally) with the music he heard — without stretching the metaphor.

 *     *     *     *     *

 On a different note: Brian O’Nolan, otherwise known as Flann O’Brien, was born a century ago as of October 5th of this year. The author of The Third Policeman and At Swim-Two-Birds is one of my all-time favorites, and deserving of quite a big ruckus on his centennial. An excerpt from an article on the subject by Mark O’Connell, from The New Yorker:


September 23, 2011

The Flann O’Brien Centenary

Flann O’Brien

“October 5th will mark the hundredth anniversary of the birth of one of the great comic geniuses, and one of the most inspired literary minds, of the twentieth century. He was born Brian O’Nolan in 1911, but is now most widely remembered as Flann O’Brien, the pseudonym under which he published “At Swim-Two-Birds” and “The Third Policeman,” two uniquely strange and formally inventive novels. Edna O’Brien (no relation, obviously) once wrote that “along with Joyce and Beckett, Flann O’Brien constitutes our trinity of great Irish writers,” and even if there’s something glib about that notion, there’s something attractive about it too. It’s tempting to picture Joyce as the inscrutable and dominant Father of Irish authors, Beckett as the suffering, ascetic, visionary Son, and Flann O’Brien as the shape-shifting Holy Comic Spirit . . .”


New Poetry Review, by Robert Mueller

New Poetry Review, by Robert Mueller

Review of
Alan Gilbert, Late in the Antenna Fields


The writing in Alan Gilbert’s volume of poetry, Late in the Antenna Fields (Futurepoem Books, 2011), feasts on sarcasm and dispirited bitterness, not to mention a certain snagging anomie.  Putting it better or worse, the reader might think to assimilate it to some kind of art adhesion.  One is led, or profited, to hear, and to sense and to pick at, a general vaguely petulant and vaguely disinterested and yet persistent patter of ambient petrified displeasure.  There is thus less of a danger than a foregone captation in this approach, inherently.  So far so good if it sticks; so far so good so long as it educates even, guides, charts and winnows.  But when notes of whining and griping swirl in, as they sometimes do, the reader may well wish to give pause.

Because of these under-currencies, however, Gilbert’s book can provide another benefit, even as it provides pleasure often and then richly, by helping the reader to begin striking a balance between invigorating talk or drama, on the one hand, and sober truth-defeating, on the other.

Salvation comes not surprisingly in turns to language itself, as practice and theory.  Certain promising moments, and there are more than a few, come to mind.  No doubt the poems in Late in the Antenna Fields relate forcefully described experiences, particularly in light of how the vacuities of experience, mainly today, may be brightly analyzed.  Thus despite the truthful malhomie in which Gilbert knows and fears we live, the pretexts of courage — even fulfillment, entertainment, stimulation — are not lost in the personality of the writing.  In other contexts we might say the writer maintains a sense of humor, though for today’s late fields that may be going too far.

Some of the poems, with their timely language track, produce a shimmer, not a frisson but thankfully also not the relative wobble concurrent with our livelihoods.  Thus the untitled sequence in the book’s third “signal callers” section delicately denotes signs of drifting metaphor and features a caught-up pardon-me slip-to-trip “pedicure” for “sinecure” exchange.  In the next and last section the poem “The first line of this poem is” slaps on the surrealism, and is delightful even, and sharp and clear.  Going back in the volume’s order one finds strong dashes of jaundiced wit in “Poem without a coda.”  “I think it would be better if I didn’t sing” invites fascination, tells the reader it is time to entertain modes of rich connecting, as if these were still in operation.  “Lease to own” and “Not or but and” similarly entertain with new devices, new exits, as if these were possible.  Additionally, the book’s last poem, “The service economy’s economy,” sports a life and a rhetoric of sorts.  It courts lyric achievement and sends Alan Gilbert’s efforts off with a bang.

To dwell on this finishing poem, really a finishing “excerpt” in the light that penetrates this poet’s world, we note first of all the original and ingenious stanza pattern, seven measures full, and almost in the color and stature of verse paragraphs.  These stanzas cum verse paragraph afford a running commentary still deep in the floating ennui that drenches the poet’s writing.  To bright effect, however, the first orchestrates a scene of happy ghosts munching on microwave scrap.  Then there is an exit, in futility through “rotating doors”; then a darting through “bulletproof portholes,” however such a fearful chance might play.  Taking up the impending aporia, the second stanza or verse paragraph comes in line to stretch disorganizing expectations about sense and word order.  Language play is fired to best effect.  Moments of special achievement gleam through, of the kind the reader of Late in the Antenna Fields, and the poet, may find joy in recovering:


The bank still won’t cash my check
from the street fair’s inflatable carousel
after we ate with our elbows and assisted
the blowtorches and spring planting.
Otherwise, it’s gymnastics
with knees firmly stuck to the petroleum floor
while pretending to elude the chalk-outline


Replacing “linoleum” with “petroleum” somehow tells you all you need to know.  So too the phrase “chalk-outline / authorities” says a lot, and makes you wonder, more than once.

This is one of the things, then, a poet can do when writing the art trash, the rehearsable junk, of the present and evidently future worlds.  Another is the combined enjambment and caesura technique, skilled to a purpose in “Nervous conditions,” annoying to a purpose in “The consolation for proper behavior is” (see the passage from this poem quoted later in this essay).  Perhaps more fascinating, and uncertain, is the practice not of enjambing so much as running over, or stumbling or tumbling over, into the last line that is not a line of any of these oddly equipped verse paragraphs.  For this form of drop-off into the unsatisfying, look for example at “Go Solar,” or at the well-named “Nervous conditions” (just mentioned) where after a hard stop the verse paragraph concludes (in the lines quoted below) with effective enjambments and one of a number of caesural or mid-line pause effects that stir this stanza cum verse paragraph and generally help drive the poem’s energetic tribute to wasted energies.  From how the stanza falls into a last line that is not a line we might draw a murky or lurking or queerly jerking sense of ambiguity:


It’s hard enough to get taken seriously by
the protocolers shouting, “Stand up straight!”
as if there’s a vast conspiracy hatching to rob them
of their land.


It seems that we are in for endless possibilities of problematizing in our reading of Alan Gilbert’s poems.  Where it is something else again and not like every other exercise in planned boredom, this experience would appear suitable to this our world of unsignifying debris and ambient laying out of troubles.  But most odd of all of the unspecifying effects, while not perplexing, not quite at that level and so remaining rooted in the exqusite and gluey soil of boredom and anxiety, is the Gilbertian mellifluous.  And what Derek Walcott indicates amid the phenomenological turnings that glides us through his epic Tiepolo’s Hound of how “the art of being bored // diminishes conceit” could better refer to some of Gilbert’s dilemmas in Late in the Antenna Fields.  At the same time, where Walcott’s writing, smoothed-over sweetness and effervescence, frequents the pretty, the delightful and the luminous, Gilbert’s sketches are none of those.

Walcott and Gilbert together make about as strange a home as you will find.  Yet just about any two texts will proffer some likenesses and differences.  Take a long passage, long for a finite (though compound and with adverbial sub-clauses) clause following a semi-colon, in tercets from a section of Walcott’s 1973 sequence Another Life:


breaking a lime leaf,
cracking an acrid ginger root,
a smell of tribal medicine stained the mind,

stronger than ocean’s rags,
than the reek of the maingot forbidden pregnant women,
than the smell of the horizon’s rusting rim,

here was a life older than geography,
as the leaves of edible roots opened their pages
at the child’s last lesson, Africa, heart-shaped,

and the lost Arawak hieroglyphs and signs
were razed from slates by sponges of the rain,
their symbols mixed with lichen,

the archipelago like a broken root,
divided among tribes, while trees and men
laboured assiduously, silently to become

whatever their given sounds resembled,
ironwood, logwood-heart, golden apples, cedars,
and were nearly

ironwood, logwood-heart, golden apples, cedars,
men . . .



Note the bright prospects in the swirling, languid yet fulfilling and forward-promising rhythms.  Note the music, gladsome though with sadness in the account, and touching upon exhilaration, in the flow of these lines.  Now compare Gilbert’s music, similarly languishing and lovely, but unable to serve lovely sensation, as if unable to underscore its smooth-winging; as if to erase, with dubious and disseverating emphasis, such false availability of bright prospects.  The passage quoted below is the first stanza out of three of “The consolation for proper behavior is” and one needs the context of the entire proceeding to understand the musical entrances and extensions.  Suffice it here to consider the long and accumulating lines and the rolling multilinear periods for some idea of the effective rendering of cross-purposes between rhythm and unclarified expectation.  Continuing from the title, “The consolation for proper behavior is,” the poem begins:

not manners, but one ventricle filled with spiders,
the other with M&M’s. Getting dressed
for the office is a contortionist’s act when the body
is skin’s coat rack for however long
you can endure it. Repeat daily while resting a plate
on your head, as epaulets collect dust
under the sofa of a distant home, with clouds specially
flown in for the occasion. After the blizzard,
the obsessives challenged the compulsives to a game
of snowflake removal. I’m still coming
undone, even though TV has taught me how to live again.


  In “Every 20-gallon jar of pickles contains a free” the music swings sweetly with a more direct impulse to the statement, thus creating an effect resembling, again conflictingly, an exquisite sound like Walcott’s though not as closely.  The following passage from that poem exemplifies the rolling multilinear form, enabled further by the two-line grouping.  The tone partakes of grim, almost blasé, disinterested realism:

[line begins in mid-sentence]
for more. We only heard the trains late
at night while dreaming of hobos, our bellies

stuffed with Lean Cuisine. The side of corn
showed up in our stools at the top hat,

while wrinkles in the wallpaper turned out
to be missing Cheerios and roach traps

linked by thick trails of sugar. That was before
a bee got into my alphabet. Horses with shiny

hindquarters in transcontinental quarantine
watch polo players scatter from runways

when the cargo planes approach after having
emptied their payloads of cluster bombs,

Snickers bars, and flat-tire repair kits
on the women and children first. A drunk
[line ends mid-sentence]


 Elsewhere Gilbert’s poem “Speed is feasting” marries line arrangement and syntax with remarkable felicity, proving he knows well how to tune the guitar and often chooses differently.  There too, however, the dry life of listless reportage runs counter to the potencies of current and flow.

One is past and one is now, but just as Derek Walcott in the passage quoted earlier celebrates (so to speak) the demise of cultures, what can come from that in personal knowledge, so Alan Gilbert will be found celebrating, while mired in irony, the demise of culture, what you can call culture, again from personal knowledge, what you can call knowledge.  Perhaps for the how-to of knowledge, so elusive in all contexts, mainly today, Gilbert’s poetry will prove a good place to be, and to be the entry, for better or for worse.




 Copyright © 2011, by Robert Mueller. All Rights Reserved.

Robert Mueller has contributed often to this website, providing short essays, in addition to his own poetry, on such diverse figures as the singer, songwriter and poet Vanessa Boyd, the writing of Evgeny Zamyatin, the author of the famous Russian novel We, and the poets Barbara Guest and Jill Magi, whose collection of poetry Threads is an offering of Futurepoem Books. At other sites he has reviewed Magi’s Torchwood (from Shearsman), a Futurepoem title by Ronaldo V. Wilson and the poetry of Macgregor Card, Jeanne Marie Beaumon, Sharon Dolin and Susan Wheeler. He is a regular contributor to the Word Press blogsite October Babies.


Midnight in Paris

Midnight in Paris

New poetry from Joseph Milford graces our front page now, along with an essay by Robert Mueller on the poetry of Alan Gilbert. Both bring in a touch of the surreal, which is always welcome here. Because, poetry is like . . . a simile. Or, as Ernest Hemingway would say, “Do you want to box?”

Which reminds me of the film I saw last night, Woody Allen’s wonderful Midnight in Paris. An ode to the city of light, an ode to love, and a trip through time with Scott, Zelda, Stein, Picasso, Dali, Bunuel and a host of great artists, writers and composers. Why? Why do we go with them, through the streets of Paris, into the cafes and nightclubs? Ultimately, perhaps, to learn that there is no place like the present for love, and that without it time and place matter not at all. Without it, we have no Tree of Life, as Malick might say, stuck in a room with the exterminating angel.


New Poetry by Robert Mueller and Desi Di Nardo

New Poetry by Robert Mueller and Desi Di Nardo

Robert Mueller has graced our pages before, and in his latest, takes what seems to be a new direction. The rhythm and mood is Shakespearean. But the word mix is a la Language Poetry.

Desi Di Nardo has also graced these pages before, and she has a new book coming out. From Guernica’s blub:


The Cure is a Forest by Desi Di Nardo

An element of animism permeates the poems, set in and against the backdrop of Canada’s ecotones, taking us from the city and industry into both the past and the possible.

The Launch Party is April 3rd. For more information, visit this website: Guernica Editions



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