Friday, March 31, 2017
Transom Poems 2016 By Rick Mullin
By Rick Mullin
Dos Madres Press
Review by Dennis Daly
Dismal things embedded in a city-scape of soaring architecture gaze outward like Gothic demons into the crisp sunlit clarity of Rick Mullin’s poetic universe. Mullin notices them there and paints their likenesses onto the pages of Transom, his newest collection of ground-breaking poetry. Unlike some of his grander books such as Soutine (a stunning verse biography of a neglected artist) and Sonnets from the Voyage of the Beagle (a wondrously detailed retelling of Charles Darwin’s epic journey), Mullin scales down his subjects to pedestrian or, more to the point, commuter proportions.
As a consummate formalist Mullin uses measure and rhyme in a fifteen line sonnet-like invention he calls a Third Sancerre. Appropriately enough the name suggests a French wine region noted for its elegant, yet very drinkable, wines grown in flinty, mineral rich soils.
From his very first poem, At Century 21, Mullin frames chaotic details and turns them into art. The poet remembers a troubling scene where fate chooses and rejects its victims indiscriminately. He sets his tableau at Century 21, a department store that survived 9-11, located across from the World Trade Center. What often gets brushed off as unexceptional low-drama incidents evolve into high tragedy.
… A woman cried as all
the contents of her briefcase scattered
over Dey Street. I assume she worked
in Tower One and would have made it in
by 9. And then the transit cruiser parked
on Broadway hit its lights and faded in-
to smoke and mirrors and a sense that mattered
more than any rational surmise.
Notice that the measure picks up steam because of Mullin’s effective enjambment technique. Form and material complement each other perfectly here.
Another early piece in the collection, Ferry Weather, projects timeless classicism (The Odyssey, which the poet’s persona is reading on his way to work) as well as tragic hints (the World Trade Center) onto the stunning but everyday imagery of New York Harbor. A tug follows the poet’s ferry, cutting its wake, which then bleeds into a blue-green palette. The poet praises the clarity of this September day—like the infamous day of September 11th. As he watches the tug, it
… rumbles through an image in the book
that carried me, unconscious, from the train.
The giant-killer channeling a brook
of weedy ghosts. But, oh, the sky again!
That unforgettable cerulean lake
Of clean electric air that spells September.
Apparently Mullin is not impervious to psychoanalysis. He questions his own disquiet level or lack thereof after he misses his train station in his poem entitled After Little Falls. Was he reading a good poem or did he just fall asleep? And, since he forgot his cell phone at work, why not panic like anyone else would instead of exuding a solid front of apathy? The poet considers the conundrum and its potential resolution,
… So why the smirk?
Your nonchalance is irritating. Show ‘em
something normal like anxiety. Oh, well.
Someone would have let you make a call—
you don’t look crazy, staring at the swell
of taillights bleeding in the rain, the wall
of autumn, lost in the enfolding gloam.
Blue Jay, Mullin’s suburban song of paradise lost, delivers full frontal comedy as well as a twist of irony to the collection. Before ceding his property to the progeny of dinosaurs, and making clear his position on the unfairness of his own wretched fate, the poet introduces the invader of his world,
Oh floppy dishtowel blue jay in the yard,
most vicious of the garden birds, most summer;
who understands suburban life is hard,
who hates the robin and the neighbor’s Hummer;
who scares the children in the plastic pool
and tears through my tomatoes—criminal,
you fall from grace and crap on my Toyota.
Political poetry doesn’t do much for me unless it approaches the intensity and the not so subtle recklessness of an Ossip Mandelstam piece (I’m thinking of the “Kremlin mountaineer” poem). Mullen’s poem The Aggregate achieves that level. The poet dates his poem November 9, the day after the general election. He sandwiches the poem with a dazzling opening image and a finale that cuts through a morning walk like a machete. Mullin knows what he’s doing! The poem begins this way,
Somewhere out there, not so far away
from all the inconsolable commuters
solemnly interred beneath a day
they’d warded off on personal computers,
wakes the shadow of catastrophe
For pure magic you can’t beat The Peppers in December, Mullin’s piece about very little, or perhaps quite a lot. The poet’s wife brings a bunch of dried out peppers from the kitchen and mysteriously places them on his writing desk. That’s all. There is no more. Except, of course, in Mullin’s imagination and egomania and music. Consider here the poet considering,
Was it the pressure of the holidays,
your hectic preparations that consume
a month? Whose judgment of what stays
consigns memento mori to my room?
Ignominy. The sheer effrontery of it all!
And not a word! A motherly reproof
so unbecoming of a wife, this slap
with no report but elegance and truth.
I am the husband, now, of husks.
With this collection Mullin adds the poetic portrayal of everyday hubbub in a way that engages and compels to his stash of impressive artistic achievements. This extraordinary poet never disappoints.