Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Lightly in the Good of Day

Bob Hart’s first full-length book of poems, published by Bench Press, is evocative work: in an almost magical sense of that word for the poems read like conjurations. As Jee Leong Koh notes in an effective and thoughtful introduction, Bob is a Robin, a Robin Goodfellow, a Puck of Midsummer. True, he is also a kind of Prospero, who as performance poet/mage understands the dramatic nature of words.

Writing in his introduction to this volume (by a mature poet that has the feel of a Selected Poems), Jee Leong Koh makes three important observations. Firstly, Bob Hart is a poet of the “Naughty nothing number zero”. Secondly, he is a trickster. Thirdly, his language recalls that of Dylan Thomas. All of these are interesting perspectives.

From an Hermetic view-point, Puck is The Fool of The Tarot. This card bears the Zero. It is the nothingness, the 0-like egg of Orpheus, from which creativity begins. And that creativity is a place of cancellation, where positive and negative meet. This is, perhaps, the major tone that a reader feels in Lightly in the Good of Day. Light and shadow meet in balance. The poetry contains a modern, metaphysical wit, which sees the darkness of life. Yet, this is done with a lightness of touch and dance of intellect:

You again might be
So kindly sympathetic with the Deity
You’d go one on one
With the awesome quantity of Nothingness
To sustain a Circumstance
For God’s eternity.
(Ludwig and Emily for Instance, p.28).

A nice touch, to see Donne’s circling compasses, Blake’s circle of containment, re-imagined as a “Circumstance”.

Art can be perceived through many connected words: artisan, artistry, artistic. The Trickster is known through a more subtle connection—articulated. S/he is a player with the articulations of the body, the bones and how they fall; with the skeleton of syntax and the rattle of words on the page. The poems in Lightly in the Good of Day are fuly aware of this. Their syntax swings and tumbles acrobatically. Fortunately, they never become the dreary word poetry so beloved by certain quarters in the USA. Bob Hart’s poetry sparkles within its veils, so the poem, like a cloud “is a shimmersuit for the naked sun” (The Well Showered Woman Auto-Racer, p.14).

Hermeticism has provided some vital metaphors for criticism. Bloom’s connection of Kabbalah and criticism is one major example. Most striking is Bloom’s claim that a poet is often engaged in a struggle with another poet, with chains from which s/he must break free, often by imitation, then transcendence. More often, with contemporary poetry, I am reminded of the alchemist in his laboratory with shelves of bottles, tinctures, aromas and tastes. Poetry, as in Bob Hart’s, isn’t a wrestling with any particular cosmic angel, like Jacob, so much as a blending of forms into something new. The poems in this volume are reminiscent of the early Dylan Thomas. They hold a rich surrealism. But none clearly echo any of his poems. (This isn’t a metaphysical reaction as in the poetry of Vaughan and Herbert). If anything the poems are closer to the disciples of Thomas, poets such as W.S.Graham:

Let me measure my prayer with sleep as an
Infant of story in the stronghold eyelid
Left by a hedge with a badge of campions…

(Let Me Measure, p.22 Collected Poems).

Participation in that petal’s flush
echoes blushingly in self:
song; heard caused to bloom in me—
(In that Petal Flesh, p.10)

In other words, Bob Hart writes within a tradition of pastoral and metaphor and rhetoric— but a light rhetoric, one distilled, like Graham. In the poetry many echoes appear, the profound simplicity of Emily Dickinson, the “zingy and swift” diction of e.e. cummings, the urbane jazz tone of Langston Hughes, even the energetic delicacy found in the better Futurist poets such as Ardengo Soffici. But the poems are very much in the voice of the poet! Sometimes, the world of fairy and Ariel jars with this reader, but the poems in the main are exciting and original. They are translucent visions of human feeling...double rainbows in which light is inverted...devilishly good...“iridescences”.