The Use of the World by Dan Albergotti
Reviewed by Kathleen Kirk, Poetry Cheerleader
Unicorn Press, 2013
Smyth-sewn binding, 44 pages, $12
The Use of the World, by Dan Albergotti, might be considered “the use of the word” to know oneself and to know the world/s in which we live. It begins with poems of apology and invocation and continues with poems of wisdom and lament, simplicity and profundity, rhyme and reversal, myth and truth, affirmation, denial, and challenge. I heard in the heartbreaking silence of “Dusty Field, Dog Barking”—after the dog stops barking—the lingering yearning to rewrite or unwrite narratives life sometimes writes for us.
That yearning is made explicit in the myth-laden poems, “Surprising the Gods” and “After Thebes,” two poems that immediately precede the dusty field poem, where the speaker’s mother climbs out of her crashed car and the poor dog listens for what will happen next. In “Surprising the Gods,” the mythical Eurydice, wife of the musical Orpheus, steps on the snake, killing it, not vice versa. In “After Thebes,” Oedipus might be able to cope with the tragedy of his life by acquiring a new sensitivity in his self-imposed blindness:
In this darkness, would you begin to see
the use of the world and learn to make yourself
something else, something strangely new,
and be able to wholly forget ever having been
anyone’s child, any mother’s son?
The book contains some tour de force poems—a set of linked verses, “Days Spent in One of the Other Worlds”; the hilariously titled “Christina Sestina,” which demonstrates the power and the folly of the sestina; and “What Everyone Knows,” a poem that explores free association and its culmination in utter unity, a celebration of how the world in its nonsense makes perfect sense.
One way this book works is by honoring the personal disasters inside and alongside the world’s disasters. We hear about the twin towers in ghazals, a Persian form. “Ghazal for Buildings” ends with this couplet: “When building Babel, people spoke inscrutable tongues. / It’s getting close to Ramadan. The hum of prayers is building.” What’s gone, what’s fallen, starts back up. We hear of tsunami and car crash. We move from this world into other worlds, via myth, imagination, theatre. In a marvelous poem titled for a stage direction, “Exeunt Voltemand and Cornelius” (brief characters in Hamlet), comes a marvelous turn toward the audience, the poet’s soliloquy, so to speak:
Think back to a time when you could have, but did not act.
What difference did it make? Or could it have made: Can you live
with that? It’s clear you do. But are you happy, really, at all?
Please excuse the poem’s strange, accusatory turn for a moment.
It’s not personal, just philosophical. Listen: This is the only stage
you’ll ever have. Do something worth your life before you’re dead.
It’s like Mary Oliver’s question in “The Summer Day”—“Tell me, what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?”—but in a Shakespearean mode. And as a command, not a rhetorical question!
I was re-reading this book, published in 2013, outdoors in September of 2014, a few dragonflies still present in this stage of early fall that still resembles summer. “Ghazal of Air” (one of the 9/11 ghazals) whirred in my head in the relative silence of a few cicadas and distant lawn mowers and power saws. These couplets hovered:
Is this a silence that will never be broken?
All words now seem like a waste of air.
A dragonfly seems more to float than fly—
a perfectly indifferent god of air.
All foundations gone, none left to build.
No floor beneath us, we’ll have to dance on air.
What a lovely book, pursuing the ineffable in tight yet flexible forms and allowing this world its intermittent formlessness. I’ll close with a short poem with a long title.
“Couplet Found Wedged in the Doorway Between Two Worlds”
But really, there’s no other world, no king.
You want a song? Then teach yourself to sing.
Kathleen Kirk is a writer whose work appears online and in print in Eclectica, Menacing Hedge, Poetry East, RHINO, Poems & Plays, Spillway, Waccamaw, and elsewhere. She is the author of five poetry chapbooks, most recently Interior Sculpture: poems in the voice of Camille Claudel (Dancing Girl Press, 2014) and Nocturnes (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2012), and the poetry editor for Escape Into Life. She blogs about poetry, reading, and life at Wait! I Have a Blog?!
Galaga by Michael Kimball
Reviewed by C. L. Bledsoe, The Lit Reporter
Boss Fight Books, June 2014
eBook, 136 pp., $14.95
There is a trend in recent books in which writers address pop culture from their childhoods. Everything from the computer game The Oregon Trail to any number of movies, TV shows, and celebrities have been the subject for poems and novels. Of course, these books aren’t really about the games/celebrities, etc., so much as they are about the era and the authors’ formative experiences with these bits of cultural flotsam.
In Galaga, Kimball looks back to the arcade game craze of the early 1980s. The book is divided into 255 short sections (255 because that’s how many levels the game Galaga has), often consisting of a single paragraph, that each relate to some aspect of the game and his experiences—everything from actual game play to hats inspired by the game to cultural references. It’s sort of an encyclopedia, not only of the game, but also Kimball’s love of the game.
The book is more than simply an extended Wikipedia article about Galaga, although it does chronicle interesting facets of the game at length. Kimball delves deeply into his own psyche and past. Galaga was more than just a diversion for him, it was a refuge from an abusive childhood. Visions of a scared, scarred child clinging not only to an escape but the opportunity for success and self-esteem make this book something more than the standard, “Hey, remember this bit of pop culture?”
The book is episodic without a sustained, clear narrative, although it could be argued that the author’s obsession with the game is the narrative. Kimball opens the book with an anecdote about Alec Baldwin, who claimed that playing Galaga was the only way he could bring himself down from cocaine binges so that he could go home and actually sleep. This opening is somewhat shocking, but it reveals the importance of the game as a lifeline. We would expect no less from Kimball, a writer known for his brutal honesty.
C. L. Bledsoe is the author of the young adult novel, Sunlight; three poetry collections, _____ (Want/Need), Anthem, and Leap Year; and a short story collection called Naming the Animals. A poetry chapbook, Goodbye to Noise, is available online. Another, The Man Who Killed Himself in My Bathroom, is available here. His story, "Leaving the Garden," was selected as a Notable Story of 2008 for Story South's Million Writers Award. His story, “The Scream,” was selected as a Notable Story of 2011. His nonfiction piece, “Thesis,” was nominated for 2012 Best of the Net. He’s been nominated for the Pushcart Prize five times. He blogs at Murder Your Darlings. Bledsoe has written reviews for The Hollins Critic, The Arkansas Review, American Book Review, Prick of the Spindle, The Pedestal Magazine, and elsewhere. Bledsoe lives with his wife and daughter in Maryland.
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