(8th House, 2010)
Writers are a self-indulgent lot. Before you get up in arms, let me explain: I feel free to say this, as I'm a writer myself, and because I write, I know many other writers. We are like bees -- we tend to swarm. The one universal truth of all writers is that we believe we have something to say and that what we have to say is important and that people should be interested in our ideas, damn it!
Poets are the most careful of writers -- fastidious and exacting. Always seeking the exact verb, the perfect metaphor, the precise adjective. They have to; economy of words is their stock and trade. Rather than using more words, their goal is always to use fewer. A poet's greatest desire must be to express personal ideas of boundless complexity in 24 lines or less.
I believe this is, perhaps, where this poet falls short. In his collection of poems titled Plum Stuff, Rolli practices a style that is long on economy of words, but unfortunately, that economy often left me baffled, staring at phrases and stanzas so bereft of words that at times the poet's meaning was lost. Unconventional style choices and non-standard spellings add to the confusion. For no reason that is immediately evident, the writer chooses to hyphenate some words, dividing them and placing the first syllable on one line and the remainder of the word on the next, causing no end of distraction as I wondered what his reasoning might be. The use of the archaic word dere sent me scurrying to the dictionary and, after having looked up the definition, scratching my head as to which of several meanings he intended to be used.
The use of abbreviations for words that aren't usually abbreviated also interrupts the flow and distracts from the meaning in many poems. We are told in one line that, "I too can sit inconspic. in a cafe." As a reader, I had to wonder why the writer made this choice, rather than concentrating on his meaning. Occasionally, Rolli simply invents words, not unheard of in the world of poetry, but those words must have meaning the reader can define.
In "Being Celebrity's Being," the first two stanzas read: "Being Celebrity's Being / spread so thin / dere's lick for everyone / season none // We un- / common plums plucked / nibbled by de millions till / nil / de rocks / in de middle." As a reader, I'm adrift. I have nothing to hang these ideas on. I want so badly to understand, to allow Rolli to communicate with me, but I'm lost in a maze that has no pattern. The words are simply words, their meaning lost for lack of a touchstone. There is no subject I can see and no conflict or problem or great pouring out of wisdom. Or if there is, the meaning is buried in the clipped phrases and confusing stylistic choices.
In the end, I found myself thinking that Rolli's goal as a poet is to be avant-garde. Unfortunately, his attempts to mold a new style seem forced rather than organic, which gives Rolli's work an air of pretension.
book review by
7 August 2010
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