Loads of Learned Lumber

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Joshua Robbins, _Praise Nothing_

THIS BOOK, JOSHUA Robbins's first, often reminded me of "The Hollow Men" and the first and fifth sections of The Waste Land, conjuring that same bleached, baked-dry world where the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief--except that this desert lies in suburbia's bleaker neighborhoods, with their strip malls, power lines, and chain link fences, and Eliot's stony soil is now a layer of asphalt (and none the more hospitable for that).

The recurring notes in this dryness are anguish, longing, misgiving, but as in Eliot, a lyricism that seems reluctant to trust itself whispers of an unknowable other-where that abundantly provides what this world withholds: Eliot's hyacinth garden and "sunlight on a broken column," Robbins's "last monarchs / fluttering like quarter notes over the driveway," or "light / set off in the pear tree's white bloom."

Fire flickers, sometimes roars throughout the collection too, as in later Eliot ("Little Gidding," in particular), but Robbins is just as interested in the residue the purging, refining fire leaves behind, especially in the book's closing poem, "A Patterning of Fire, a Gathering of Ash."

Praise Nothing's continual orbiting of religious questions may ward off readers indifferent or antipathetic to religious poetry; readers who do like religious poetry are probably looking for something a little more comforting or buttressing than Robbins gives them.  There are readers out there, though, I imagine, that will find its particular astringency bracing. I hope the book finds them.

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