Frederick Glaysher, |
The Bower of Nil:
A Narrative Poem
I love narrative poetry. Done well, it can drive home a story in a personal way straight prose can't approach. Frederick Glaysher starts out The Bower of Nil with just such a promising scene: the eve of a funeral, with the newly widowed husband and his closest friend trying to avoid the topic without looking as though they're avoiding it. With a few quick lines and some well chosen dialogue, Glaysher creates a couple of believable characters: Peter Marsh, the new widower and old philosophy professor, and his friend David Emerson, last guest to offer his company in the night between death and burial. Their conversation, and Peter's internal interruptions of his own thoughts, show off the one of the finer points of poetry -- the ability to capture emotion and create feeling more smoothly than straight prose.
Unfortunately, their conversation ends, Peter goes into solitude to rest, and The Bower Of Nil becomes as interesting as an academic office party. Peter spends a painful but brief time thinking about the shambles of his family life before trying to find blame. The pessimism, worry and deep introspection are all natural and believable faces of grief; the double-speed parade of philosophers and social engineers that then march through Peter's mind are not. On the evening of his wife's funeral, in the wake of her random murder, he spends the night dissecting schools of thought and analyzing current societal trends through a filter of dead philosophic dust. This may be the natural thing for a philosophy professor to do, but it's alienating to anyone not in the field to constantly have to check references as the narrative struggles along. From the moment Peter shuts the door, there's very little narrative to be found -- just one man's mental wanderings, until a sudden conclusion in the morning brings a sweet end to the rant.
The first section of the book proves that Glaysher can tell a good story in poetic form. It's maddening that he chooses instead to create a name-dropping festival. I find myself returning to the satisfying first chapters of The Bower Of Nil as though rereading them will make up for the dull disappointment that fills the rest of the book. There is nothing wrong with Glaysher's storytelling, but even a great poet can't make his philosophy homework seem interesting. Until Glaysher learns to separate one from the other, narrative poetry fans should spare themselves the pain and find another source for their fix.