EILEEN TABIOS Engages
BRASH ICE: NEW POEMS by Djelloul Marbrook
(Leaky Boot Press, East Yorkshire, U.K., 2014)
I don’t think it unusual when older poets start turning the anthropological eye on themselves. Why older poets do so would comprise an interesting survey and/or essay. Answers no doubt would touch on mortality as well as whether their life’s work has been worthwhile and/or been acquitted well.
What’s being set up here, though, is (among other things) the risk of being boring. Really: poets are no different from other humans in this selfie-oriented world: our lives are not as interesting as we think and are most interesting to us.
That said, and fortunately for me as reader since I loathe boredom, Djelloul Marbrook—or the persona in the book—elevates navel-gazing in BRASH ICE with wit, intelligence and compassion: generally hallmarks, too, of self-awareness in a good way. Marbrook doesn’t just pick out the navel’s lint—he picks at it, holds it up to the light, and then offers lessons, observations and meditations that trap then hold the reader’s interest. It begins with the book’s conceptual underpinning as revealed by its title. Brash ice is “broken ice that appears scarred after freezing again.”
But I also believe the applicability of the pun. These poems are often brash, apt for the revealed persona:
i’d study brash ice.
failing that i’d call failure life
& unmask myself as a firefly
nobody caught in a jar
—from “if i had a painterly eye”
i like inspired mistake,
a peripheral glance that jars
our nerve ends loose,
diseases that best define
our escapades at being well
And thus the collection begins with poems whose persona, to quote for convenience the accurate book description, “looks back on a dervish’s trek through the world of illusions and tells us what beguiled and enlightened him.” Here’s an example that intrigues me for its possible application to the “poetry world”:
that one person
i have never been that one person without whom
ta-da ta-da ta-da, but i have known a few
who fill the room and think attention’s due.
they are all I refuse to celebrate. i will not be a moth
no matter how cold the dark. i am content
that a star should be a mothhole in eternity.
That my interpreted context—the poetry world—is base, only helps to show how good the poem is. There are so many ways to make the point but how Marbrook puts it resonates and sticks in memory: “a star should be a mothhole in eternity.”
I apply the writer’s context, too, to “burning paper ships.” But its last two lines reveal one of Marbrook’s strengths: deft imagery, which is appropriate since other poems (like “if i had a painterly eye”) reveal an interest in the visual arts:
burning paper ships
(for Maj Ragain)
these paper ships i light
i have no use for them.
insurance is too high,
tariffs too steep.
but a man without them,
where has he to go
except to be an ashen sheet
on a pond transected
by a heron’s leaving?
Other universal topics are addressed, e.g. lost loves, regrets, the many natures of color, loss and desire, etc. I recommend the poems as they manifest the unblinking gaze between a poem like “what I have to work with” and “softly”—
i don’t want to behave like this again,
this being any way i have ever behaved,
nor like anyone I have ever read about
no matter how much i might have admired him,
nor do i want to be a man or woman again
but rather an androgyne who has no habits
—from “what i have to work with”
yield me fiercely to this undertaking,
this flowering of pain, this milling
of memory and bone. laugh
when my golden dust reconstitutes itself
and hurls the grindstone hurtling
through majesties of trees in a kind of youth
that mocks ever having to grow old
until the next time and perhaps the one time
when i will remember everything softly.
Ultimately, Marbrook’s unsentimental but caring gaze makes us care about his (persona's) life because it reveals epiphanies relevant as well to other lives and possibly ours.
Eileen Tabios recently released an experimental auto-biography, AGAINST MISANTHROPY: A LIFE IN POETRY, as well as her first poetry collection published in 2015, I FORGOT LIGHT BURNS. Forthcoming later this year is INVENT(ST)ORY which is her second “Selected Poems" project; while her first Selected THE THORN ROSARY was focused on the prose poem form, INVEN(ST)ORY will focus on the list or catalog poem form. She does not let her books be reviewed by Galatea Resurrects because she's its editor (the exception would be books that focus on other poets as well). She is pleased, though, to point you elsewhere to recent reviews of her work. Her poetry collection, SUN STIGMATA (Sculpture Poems), received a review by Joey Madia in New Mystics Review and Zvi Sesling in Boston Area Small Press and Poetry Scene. More information at http://eileenrtabios.com