Loads of Learned Lumber

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Timothy Donnelly, _The Cloud Corporation_

A LONGISH WAIT -- seven years -- who does he think he is, Elizabeth Bishop? -- but worth it. Donnelly still has the capacity, demonstrated repeatedly in Twenty-Seven Props..., to keep you teetering off-balance while moving recklessly forward, ultimately landing you in some spot you never saw coming until you were already there.

I keep thinking I detect some of the same species of way-too-late-Romanticism that Harold Bloom detected in middle-period Ashbery. "In His Tree" seems a contemporary busted-quest poem, along the lines of Shelley's Alastor, Browning's Pauline, Rimbaud's Le Bateau Ivre or Hart Crane's "The Broken Tower."

I set out to find that thing, drawn down by an under-
water instinct true to the warp and weft of a small
false deafness, locked deep in the blue-green private
compartment broken up into shifts and strung
in accordance to the wiles of arachnid light, a light too
truant from its source to reflect a compact back

with fidelity: the sun its half-remembered lozenge
trapped among the birch.

I plucked this virtually at random, but it's a good sample of the pleasures of the volume: the whiplash-inducing enjambment of "a small / false deafness," the twisty syntax (does "strung in accordance" modify "compartment" or "deafness"?), the baffled engagement with the natural world... which baffled engagement makes one think of the Romantics again, as does Donnelly's juggling with religious feelings he's not sure what to do with:

a lifelong feeling that I feel now, remembering
down the highway half-hypnotized in the
backseat feeling what I feel now, and moderate

happiness has nothing to do with it: I want to press
my face against the cold black window until
there is a deity whose only purpose is to stop this.

("The New Hymns")

There are hi-jinks as well, such as a hilariously terrifying blending of phrases from Springsteen's "Born to Run" with phrases from the Patriot Act ("The Last Dream of Light Released from Seaports"). "Dream of a Poetry of Defense" works almost as well -- it blends Shelley's Defense of Poetry and the 9/11 Commission Report -- but the one blending the Beverly Hillbillies theme song with one of Osama bin Laden's addresses, ennh, I don't know. But the hits far outnumber the odd misses in The Cloud Corporation.

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