Saturday, February 16, 2019

Review of "Out of Time, Running"

“Out of Time, Running,” A Review, 
By Dale Cottingham

Out of Time, Running              
By Edward Nudelman
2014, Harbor Mountain Press

I’ll begin consideration of Out of Time, Running, Edward Nudelman’s second full-length poetry collection, with the title, because it’s emblematic of so much: time’s compression as it passes – or runs down to loss, and finally to death, which to the poet means solace, and much more.  Nudelman confronts us with the inexorable, with all its boilings and its burnings, caused by time’s unspooling. Yet he does not, in poem after poem, linger on grief or loss, a ready-made subject.  Rather, as we see from his first poem, which was nominated for a Pushcart award, “Melody of Complaint,” the failing clock leads not to chaos, but to the burning bush:

                                    Here is where I leave my wants
                                    and wills.  A stack of papers,
                                    a desk riddled with sheets
                                    and letters and numbers.
                                    Above the bookcase leaded
                                    with broken glass, tulips
                                    in a glass jar begging for light.
                                    Everything, as it were,
                                    begging for light. 

Keats articulated what we still feel, that we hate poetry which has a palpable design upon us – poetry which would enforces a design, its restrictive pattern and the decorative detail, at the expense of the poem’s project, which is evermore about to be. We envy the poet who can see things in the design, rather than the poet who can see the design in things. So, surely, we must envy Nudelman for having endured the burning, and emerged less burdened, simpler, freer. And having so loosed himself, promptly lifts his eyes to his enterprise, to locate himself in his surround, gladdened that I’m here, as we find throughout this book: “the same/ answer crystallizes, teasing out a gray/ moon to wash an unlit night“ (Biochemist in a Cold Room), “hearing the probability of sound” (Electron Spin), but also hearing “a lone voice/ crying in the wilderness, from a tiny ant straining under a load” (Greater Loss). But this is no chagrined tour of a struggle in dim light. We hear him buoyed by the pilgrimage, as he suggests in “Id-Ridden,” that he is unrecognizable to himself, “But perhaps it’s better that way,/ not knowing the real you.” 

In one of the most piercing, yet ephemeral, poems in the book, “Western Dream,” the poet describes a dream where the scene elongates through a dry season.  The speaker coaxes us to understand the need to observe in context, subsumed in unfiltered sunlight, so much so that “The sun rises boldly/ on your sunglasses/ ricocheting like a bullet.”  Of course, the poet strives to see in whatever light is allowed, and Nudelman turns to face the poem itself, to see it for what it is, a physical expression, “balancing on its good leg” (Poem That Stands On One Leaf).  For Nudelman this straight talk is a stay against the mechanical sublime, owing perhaps to his paying science career.  For if Nudelman writes of his career, the keen attention to detail, the lab, the tests, the recordations of what’s happened, he has journeyed through it and returned, and so it becomes both what he escapes from, and escapes to, in precisely the withdrawal and recurrence his poems suffer into existence. 

Nudelman offers a number of vignettes for the reader to enjoy: “Life of Riley,” “Kate’s Room,” and others, where he’s overwhelmed, listening, yet “Restless . . . in my fiftieth year of fasting and prayer” (Monk Inside).  Fasting, is a discipline that purifies, expels toxins, so that the poet and the poem distill to an essence, to prayer, and image that speaks to bearing through lean times, rather than dwelling loss. The poet has found value in humbling, that translates into a readiness to surrender. Consider “Longevity:”

                                    Take me then or take me now,
                                    before shade blights the lawn,
                                    before the old forest thins.

The poem is no longer merely the realm, but the means of self-encounter, plucking from the world the constituted terms of its being.  His discourse is identical to his experience, in such a way as to become a delta of living into everything. Such is the case for even sub-atomic particles, where, in sleep, the speaker’s eyes “dance in C minor/ and my ears hear the oak tree grow” (Subatomic Ramblings). His notion is that the world not only already contains the poem, but is the poem, that in order to write it, he does not draw the world into himself, but extrudes himself into the world.

Encountering the self is the ultimate exploration, both a reconnaissance and an examination, including the hole that will be left when Nudelman dies.  Witness “Reflecting Death:”

                                    I don’t’ see my loved-ones . . .
                                    Just my dog Sophie, asleep at the door . . .
                                    Or am I being overly sentimental?

By employment of “sentimental” in just this position, at the end, the speaker signifies that he’s let go, can see his own dying, and has found a way to adjust his self, and the self-referring metaphor, to an image of the life he’s encountered.  Additionally, narcissism is subsumed in the emblems:  time, love, struggle, leading to an ironic acceptance, when he admits to stumbling on spelling simple words, and his openness to failures, found in “Wordless Refrain”:

                                     …The theme repeats itself a full eighteen 
                                    times, a resplendent opportunity
                                    for fixation, all wordless.  Sublime.

The interior rhyme in these lines is not only brilliant and musical, but meta-thematic, considering time’s passage and the futility of words to fully understand it, whilst deftly addressing it after all, with language, his playfulness and good cheer in the rhyme coming through and simultaneously offering the sublime.    

The closing poem, “Famous Numbers, and Then There’s Me,” perhaps represents in microcosm the book, a poem which is both a culmination and a deep sounding of the self’s dark fathoms. The poem begins by offering numbers, and their certainty, but the speaker remains in mystery as we drift toward sleep, a kind of practice for death, as he imagines:

                                    . . . angel hairs splitting the wind and radiant seraphim
                                    lightly touching the sky.  I see unnumbered rays masking
                                    the nascent darkness and portents of rain.

Richard Howard, referring to Valery, remarks that we call beautiful a work which makes us aware, first, that it might not have existed, and second that it would not have been sublime, unless we read it precisely as the author wrote it. We are not drawn into criticism, necessarily, but enjoy the quality of the experience. And it is in this sense that these poems are beautiful.  They express an impulse, irrespective of how matter-of-fact the setting or scattered the phrases, which afford us the framing possibilities: the hand-to-mouth expression of a self-locating, often distilled to hopes and fears and unctions.  This is a book that once read, demands rereading, which is my highest praise in a day where poetry comes and goes, and vanishes forgettable. 

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