My friend and foil, Michael Perkins, dismisses much of contemporary poetry as “chopped up prose,” which, admittedly, is true, but I’m a committer of chopped up prose myself. In my mid-thirties I began writing poems on a lark, discovering in this short form a way around a fiction writing block that had bedeviled me after college. Freed by poetry, or my version of it, I found that I had lots to write in my compact tales, which eventually filled two books. But the true of art of poetry, namely, its ancestry in song that led to its metrical forms, never galvanized me the way storytelling did. Blame it on my tin ear, my inability to play an instrument or carry a tune. I don’t even sing in the shower, for which the shower is grateful. But lately I’ve been listening to rap music on my CD player in the car. Those guys are nothing if not poetic. They rhyme like crazy. They speak to the beat. They’ve excited my ears to the music in words. So Anthony Bernini’s Immediate Worlds arrives in my hands at the right time. He’s steeped in meter and rhyme. While composing, he might even hear the cadence of the line before the words fall into place. He’s reminding me of how different traditional poetry is from chopped up prose. Here’s one by him that I could never write but find totally appealing.
A border stream won’t understand
the notion of my land, your land,
or sense of place when cradled in a curve.
Streams won’t keep to their beds: they up and swerve.
This stream they call the Piscawan
is mostly fallen rain, now here, now gone.
The crows know: from above the staked-out countryside
a stream is just a windblown strand
of restive light flown from a careless hand.
The waters, strung with roughcast apples, gleam
when fingered in a chance daydream
of light that windowshops its way to eventide.
They flow unbounded and untame.
Go, run off with some river, change your name.
Bernini’s author bio claims that he’s “had a checkered career as an inadvertent despoiler of the planet Earth, where he is currently making a limited appearance.” I’m told that means he’s a lawyer. He lives in Troy and knows the greater Albany poetry world. He offers hope to open mike poets in “You Have Four Minutes” and honors the late Tom Nattell with an affecting sonnet. But his poems sound little like the conversational stuff you hear at open mikes and a lot more like the classic poems you read in college. He caught the poetry bug forty years ago as an undergraduate, and twenty years later recruited his former teacher to be his reader and teacher again as he doggedly pursued his craft. Not all of the poems rhyme, but they do have a metrical rhythm that elevates them out of ordinary storytelling toward song. His poems have a grander tone that’s lacking in chopped up prose. They’re not personal or confessional, but they remind us that there’s more to life than our own inner needs. He lets the scene itself have a life, such as that of the border stream. To my liking, he’s both a downtown Manhattan poet who writes about a full moon over Lafayette Street or the Fulton fish market at 3 am, and an upstate country poet who knows about beaver dams and yellowjackets hiving in soil. He even writes an appealing poem about golf, a sport I’ve done my best to damn in my own work. But here’s one I especially enjoyed after watching Citizen Kane several months ago. Though Orson Welles, the young director and star, denied the obvious for legal reasons, everyone knew that his Charles Foster Kane exiled to bitterness at his private castle named Xanadu after the Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem, “Kubla Khan,” was, in fact, William Randolf Hearst of San Simeon fame. Here’s Bernini addition to the tale. Sekhmet was an Egyptian warrior goddess, a lioness.
The Castle at San Simeon
Sekhmet wandered for centuries on end
to come at last to San Simeon,
a garden figurine high on a hill
where Europe’s refugeed magnificence,
displayed with zebras, movie stars and goats,
lies scattered through a house where no one lives.
Sekhmet suffered the fate of the longlived gods,
transformed into a curiosity
there with venetian diptychs, mediaeval choir stalls,
joints and scraps carried off in jutting jaws.
The tourists gather in her iron gaze
struck dumb by dismembered visions.
The monied scavenger is gone,
his castle occupied but undreaming.
The marble muses kept outside
are mourning their dead god.
The attic cups alone still dance.