May 4th, 2011 00:10 EST
A Poet Uses The Internet to Revive Interest in The Work of a Fellow Poet
A perfect book of poems
(The Slow Creaking of Planets, Gretchen Primack, Chapbook, 29pp, Finishing Line Press, 2007, $12)
Neglected art forms abound. One of them is surely the chapbook. It ought not be the lowly cousin of the full-blown book of poems. Each in its own right is an art form with which America is exceptionally graced. The book of poems, in the hands of many of our publishers, is a work of art, a true collectible, even while our rabid commercialism insists on its disposable nature.
This is an indecent way to begin an appreciation of a poet`s chapbook, but this is a particularly seamless chapbook and therefore an opportunity to tout an art object that is often taken for a conveyance. The Slow Creaking of Planets is a wedding of the reticence of a poet with the reticence of designer and press. Reticence in poetry, as the poet-critic A. Alvarez has shown us, is a precious commodity, and so it`s probably no accident Gretchen Primack and Finishing Line Press found each other. A commercial society tends to yak when it should speak, shout when it should whisper, and its lunatic polarization coarsens it.
We expect poetry to be inherently refined, but it isn`t. It`s often loud, exhibitionistic and manipulative. So the quietness, the respect for restraint, combined with their often spondaic exuberance, give these poems their authority. Refined exuberance is rarer than restraint.
Gretchen Primack`s imagery is as surprising as April.
So she fit herself into the lung
of a bird. Here she is now,
pumping song through the air.
None of us can sing like that.
This the last quatrain of the poem Bird " on page 26, the penultimate poem. I choose it because it embodies important elements of the poet`s poetics. Plain language, startling imagery, a sprung trimeter, which, while not characteristic, conveys the immediacy of her vision. Her enjambments are pristine, ledges you don`t mind bungying off for the sheer exhilaration of it.
There is also here in this simple stanza her memorable lack of showmanship. She is, like her teacher at Sarah Lawrence, Jean Valentine, the least theatrical of poets, and for this reason by page 5 and its poem, YWCA, " you trust that you can make this journey unwary, unguarded. You can`t say that of many poets, because they`re often reaching into their bag of tricks to win prizes and capture attention in our racetrack culture. Nothing wrong there, but it`s rather like listening to a practiced liar at the UN "love the lie, hate the liar.
She doesn`t swim to you. That`s how YWCA " begins. I love the way you`re in it, whatever it is, from the get-go, right away you both matter, and there is a mystery. Was she supposed to swim to you? Who are you? This is by itself a perfectly modernist.
She doesn`t swim to you.
When you paddle over in orange puffs
You grip her arm, rubber-smooth,
cool and chemical.
Gretchen Primack and Franklin
You are now complicit, because this feels like something has happened to you that you have chosen never to mention.
You are a tangle of seaweed
around her foot.
Don`t you feel instinctively that you have been that seaweed, or wanted to be? And whose feet would you wish to entangle?
Primack is a poet of complicities, not entertaining readers but enlisting them, not regaling them but conspiring with them to achieve a recognition which alone neither of you would have achieved. I admire this elusive quality immensely. It invites one to feel at the end that one has been consorting with otherlings and can`t quite make it back to one`s former state, ever.
It`s a shame we have such tired commercial notions about how poets (all artists, really) secure reputations. The Slow Creaking of Planets ought to be enough to secure a poet`s reputation. But our society insists that book be piled upon book to satisfy some crass measure of worth. One of the more optimistic facets of the Internet is that enables us to revisit books long after their publication free of the usual commercial insistence on immediacy.
Primack`s prosody is rather like the beautiful person in your class whom you somehow didn`t notice until the last day. You were so busy savoring the notable aspects of others that you didn`t notice how nobly this one being`s qualities were strung together. This is equally true of her poetics. Nothing about either invites examination, not even scansion. This is the way a Brancusi sculpture presents itself.
On the book`s jacket Vijay Seshadri speaks of the work`s lexical range. " I misread the comment, at first, to mean her ambit of observation. They are of course related, and I don`t think I would have risen to the challenge of describing the eccentricity of the poet`s eye had it not been for Sheshadri`s remark. Primack is interested in all the acute things a child sees and is encouraged to put away in the interests of growing up, which often means abandoning vestigial gifts.
She doesn`t just see things differently "the elderly, the sick, plein-air painting, geese, colors "she visits them as a fond stranger.
It`s a mark of the book`s exactitude that we don`t find the haunting line, the slow creaking of planets, until the last line of the last poem, Midnight. " The phrase has permeated our experience so that when we finally encounter it we feel we understand what we had hoped to understand. But the words also have the effect of having lifted the entire body of work, and responses to it, into the cosmos, reminding us of the poet Robert Kelly`s remark at the outset: The word for star " and the word for heart " must rhyme in some language. What exquisite closure. They rhyme in this language.
It`s an exciting facet of modernist poetry to prompt readers to induce rhymes that don`t exist in the text. Primack, an able alliterationist "chemical cool/brass, bores and bells "often gives us unrhymed line breaks which we go on to rhyme in our imaginations, and this is part of her complicity with readers.
It`s a shame we have such tired commercial notions about how poets (all artists, really) secure reputations. The Slow Creaking of Planets ought to be enough to secure a poet`s reputation. But our horse-race society insists that book be piled upon book to satisfy some crass measure of worth.
Djelloul Marbrook is a retired newspaperman. His second book of poems, Brushstrokes and Glances, will be published by Deerbrook Editions on December 20, 2010. His first book of poems, Far From Algiers, won the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize from Kent State University in 2007 and was published in 2008. It won the International Book Award in 2010. His novella, Artemisia`s Wolf, will be published by Prakash Books of India in December. His novella, Saraceno, was recently published as an e-book. His story, Artists Hill, adapted from the second novel of an unpublished trilogy, won the Literal LattÃ© first prize in fiction in 2008. The pioneering e-book publisher, Online Originals (UK), published his novella, Alice MIller`s Room, in 1999.
Del`s book, Far From Algiers: http://upress.kent.edu/books/Marbrook_D.htm
New review of Far from Algiers: http://www.rattle.com/blog/2009/05/far-from-algiers-by-djelloul-marbrook/
Artists Hill, Literal LattÃ©`s fiction first prize: http://www.literal-latte.com/author/djelloulmarbrook/
His blog: http://www.djelloulmarbrook.com
His mother`s art: http://www.juanitaguccione.com
His aunt`s art: http://www.irenericepereira.com