Reviewed by Geoffrey Cruickshank-Hagenbuckle
Occam, in translation, was reduced to weak-kneed jabber. "The simplest will be true." What he instead said is that excess must be necessary. Ankle-biters, please here note a world-turning change of plan. I've heard this book attacked starting even at the title, for its ungainly lengths, "pomposity," artifice, its failure as catch-word, pull-quote, or sound-bite. I say, it’s high time authors showed such size, nerve, and style.
Twenty-Seven Props for a Production of Eine Lebenszeit declares itself instantly as theater, as gesture, with unquestionable elan. Call it a challenge. Why not try the heights? Put everything anyone else is doing in whatever direction in American poetry today over on one side, I’d have to come out strong for Donnelly on the other.
Painted in the boldest strokes of carnival marquees, view "Fanny Fowler’s Poetry and Dioramas Workshops." (Could what charms most in his art be its slightly fading colors?)
Among her sharper innovations, Fowler’s infamous
"Poetry and Dioramas" workshops perhaps
pierce deepest, rivaling in radiance the sloe-
opening eye of Cleopatra’s asp.
Included, on display: "This is the Belle of Amherst’s hearse."
Much lip service gets paid these days to jouissance, but do we still read with pleasure? Who remembers the imagination, with its root-word image? I luxuriate in Donnelly’s apt magic, although he’s not all show. There’s just more good hard work in this one book than in 10 other arguably credible authors’ efforts that I leave dawdling on my desk. I’d really rather read his over. In a new American poetics re-heatedly unearthing the "fragments" of the European past, I love a man who can complete a sentence.
Consider the above. We don’t ordinarily speak of a "sharper" innovation. Is the poet having more fun than his reader? Irked, and so attentive--suspicious--we next arrive at "pierce." Some kind of back-up, anyway. Could he merely seek by this to reinforce a faltering conceit? I am still in suspension. Magisterially he then brings it off, getting the last word. "Asp" rewards us for our tension.
Thank the gods of sky and sod he did not dig into secrets veiled since ancient Egypt! We don’t need some opaque reference to their Book of the Dead, which of course I’ve heard of but never read. Here’s nothing heavy-handed or elite. Donnelly is deft. Cleopatra impacts unassisted as an immediate image, is accessible to all, and is well suited as a figure to Fanny’s amateur tableaux.
In closing, shall I now admire his "sloe-opening eye"? Enjoyment, plus enjambment! Of course we know Cleo as sloe-eyed; and neatly, too, it was in fact
her asp’s mouth that opened . . .