Monday, September 10, 2012

A Strange Frenzy: 17 Poems by Dom Gabrielli

A Strange Frenzy: 17 Poems
by Dom Gabrielli
Englewood, NJ: Unbound Content
ISBN-13: 978-1-936373-29-1
43 pages
Release date: July 2012

Review by David P. Miller

Dom Gabrielli, a poet based in Salento, Italy, and writing in English, has produced this volume of responses to the works of Rumi, a 13th century Persian poet and Sufi mystic. Rumi’s ecstatic writing is probably best known in English through translations by Coleman Barks, with many other translations also available (see In his introduction, Gabrielli says that, although he had read Barks’ translations many times, his spirit took fire upon further rereading, and it was “almost as if my words were dictated to me.”

Each of Gabrieilli’s poems, titled simply with Roman numerals, is paired with a quotation from Rumi on the facing page. While it is not certain that the poems are direct responses to the quotations, it is intriguing to read them as if they were. I find that, considering the work from this perspective, Rumi and Gabrielli stand in counterpoint in different ways. In one instance, Rumi finds the beloved in every atom:

There’s a strange frenzy in my head,
of birds flying,
each particle circulating on its own.
Is the one I love everywhere?

Gabrielli’s paired poem (IV) may arise, in part, from his occupation producing extra virgin olive oil. Its physicality also points from materiality toward something ineffable:

every wane of dawn
with wicker basket and knife
with brown boots and burning fingers

i walk the same mounds of red earth
inhale perfumes of chamomile and fennel
watch the calendula open and close
its orange cup of promise

[.  .  .]

twisting black snake my basking companion

silence my mentor

my poems call Venus from the sky

Gabrielli’s poem XV seems to take Rumi’s simple expression of deep intimacy in a different and perhaps darker direction. Rumi:

How do we keep our love-secret?
We speak from brow to brow
and hear with our eyes.

Gabrielli’s poem concludes:

i do not need to look to find your mouth
nor call to hear your eyelashes caress my chest

you have grown vast also
like the deep underground rivers
without which you whole land of liars
would lie beneath us in cinders

This volume is dedicated to love, to the absolute unification of lover and beloved, beyond the ability to be expressed, and yet compelling expression. I am only somewhat familiar with Rumi’s poetry, but what always stands out is the parallelism between the discovery of matchless love between persons, and the absorption of the seeker into unity with God. As one consequence, the pronouns “I” and “you” become ambiguous, as they may refer to either level of reality, or both at once. I find this at points in Gabrielli’s poems as well. Poem XIV evinces both the ecstasy and the shifting sense of person:

[.  .  .]

throw me higher
than light falls on a leaf

kiss me there
in the vanishing dew of dawn

every word i write
has been to travel here

to where the dew evaporates

to where your fingers expose
the inaccurate beauty of love

to touch with my lips
the opening of the heavens

This is paired with a quotation from Rumi, in which the persons indicated by pronouns may be read in at least two dimensions simultaneously:

The inner secret of that which was never born,
you are that freshness, and I am with you now.

In the foreword to his earlier volume, The Parallel Body (Ziggurat Books, 2009), Gabrielli says that the writing “explores several ‘you’s’ as it travels toward a definition of love through poetry, towards a very intimate ‘you’, towards a harmony, both graceful and joyful, for which the poet can only be grateful.” A Strange Frenzy is evidently another step in that direction.

This is an elegant landscape-format chapbook, with cover art and line drawings by Emily Faccini. I wish that the Rumi translations had been credited, both simply to know whose work they are and also to allow for further exploration. Nevertheless, this encounter has me interested in reading more by Dom Gabrielli, and most likely to re-investigate the Persian mystic poets as well.

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