Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Green Midnight By Stuart Bartow

Green Midnight
By Stuart Bartow
Dos Madres Press
Loveland, Ohio
ISBN: 978-1-948017-12-1
69 Pages

Review by Dennis Daly

Breeziness in poetry has its advantages. Stuart Bartow draws one into his new book, Green Midnight, with an easy, light touch. Martian cat women, New Age vampires, cannibal Sirens, and quacking ravens open the collection by amusing and baiting the unwary reader as he or she drifts inexorably into the poet’s sublime and deepening hive of nowhere and everywhere.

Bartow’s opening piece coyly mulls over the source of artistic inspiration, his muse, and the tenuousness of that normally one-way line of communication. The poet asks,

Who needs to make
a poem every day
when one has real work to do,
shoveling snow, washing dishes,
drinking? And doesn’t she
have other things to do, like
tend to her other loves,
that mountain in Greece, the wind
at 4 a. m., the Milky Way?

In the last line of this poem, Bartow divulges the unlisted shared phone number of dual petulant muses, the whisperers of love and lyric poetry, and for those, like myself, who often have trouble contacting either of them, it is easily worth the price of the book.

Merging cosmology with biology in a wonderfully crafted villanelle entitled Without the Stars, Bartow looks at life in a pantheistical and hopeful way. He dwells on our deeper universal knowledge that we can and should waken, its causes, and the happiness that often ensues with this conjuration. The piece concludes wonderfully,

Without the stars there’d be no us.

We can watch the stellar gusts,
can rue the meteors we’ve missed,
still not forgetting we are stardust

that somehow makes us know the stars enough,
the knowing enough to conjure bliss.
We know without the stars there would not be us,
all of us made of ancient stardust.

Do Not Open After Dusk is my favorite poem in this collection. It delineates a coffee shop with a magical door into our own imaginations. Not unreasonably, there is a warning sign. Although the entrance into this dusky world offers mere mortals visionary status, it comes with a catch. The door, once used, disappears. Bartow introduces his Twilight Zone in this way,

Of course the sign was about fear
but I always like to open portals
to see dusk, to go out into
space and time between

like William Blake, who,
in sunrise and set,
saw a golden chorus singing.
I, too, have dreamt
of opening that door

to meet something on the other side…

More than a few of Bartow’s poems are about birds. These pieces are chock full of curious detail, often setting up stunning metaphoric constructions. One of the best the poet entitles Carolina Wrens. Consider this detail that the poet uses before setting up (later in the poem) his poetic trap,

They thrive when winters are mild
but heavy snow and cold
can devastate them. They like
woodland thickets, ravines,
rocky slopes covered with brush.
Their eggs, usually five, are white
with brown spots. Rich brown above,
buff or yellow chests, these wrens
have a distinct white line
above and behind the eyes.

In his poem Invisible Bartow deals with the nature of ghosts and then speculates on their psychology. He restates with images Shakespeare’s oft quoted, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy,” and continues down that path of inquiry. Here is one of the poet’s speculations, the first sentence of which terrifies me,

Perhaps ghosts can view their own lost lives the way actors
Watch movies in which they star, flawed performances
that cannot be changed, long ago released to the world’s
audiences. Maybe through fissures, cracks in time, ghosts
might break a window, turn a clock’s arm, make a foot-
print, but the beauty is in invisibility. It must feel strange
when people walk through you, a brief rush, erotic.

Some poems are just “cool.” Bartow’s Midnight at the 24-Hour Laundromat in Corinth, New York is one such piece. After the reader figures out who the skipper is of this poetically-fueled, cosmic submarine, the poem continues thusly,

Without, the Adirondacks loom,
sonar forces immense around the sub.
The engines of the dryers cruise on
while the washers’ portals sing song
an ocean’s madness. The sub is on chart
through the frozen mountains and beyond
to the infinite sea of stars.

A monk-like world of activity inside of a tree’s womb stirs up a philosophical buzz on perfection and infinity in Bartow’s poem entitled Wild Hive. Single-minded bees, encouraging one another with songs of praise, produce a dynamo of ferocious sweetness. This ancient fable reverberates with measured metaphor and unpredictable menace. Follow the effervescent verbs,

Who conducts their hymns,

Gregorians gone mad, fiercely
composing bee-wine. Their oratory churns

electric, mind of guardians, bristled with stingers.
More than the sky, the wind’s robots,

they concoct ambrosia for the prophets
that is the same gold as their bodies,

fly like grooms into the flowers and wallow
like messengers gone drunk. Then, propelling body

as compass, return to that aerial cathedral,
that clandestine brain, and with an alchemy

of spittle and pollen create combs soaked
in amber, smelt the earth down to its essence

of honey…

It’s morning—about 4 a.m.—as I finish my first read-through of this marvelous, portent-laden collection. The wafts and brief puffs of late night zephyrs have steadied and deepened to gale force, like Bartow’s poems. The curtains flap wildly. Is this applause, or just the perfect background for this review

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