Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Even on Parnassus By Lawrence Cottrell

 Even on Parnassus

By Lawrence Cottrell

Dos Madres Press

Loveland, Ohio

ISBN: 978-1-953252-58-6

53 Pages

Review by Dennis Daly

“Make it new,” “make it new” the modernist critics and poets admonished their contemporaries and successors. Pound with his Chinese ideograms and imagist poems, Yeats with his Rosicrucian metaphors, Ginsberg with his countercultural and beat sensibilities, Elizabeth Bishop with her polished, somewhat distant take, Robert Duncan with his field philosophy of language, and arguably Gerard Manley Hopkins (who predated the rest) with his sprung rhythm did. Others, interpreting “new” as prose-like or accessibility, opted for the confessional angle (think Robert Lowell, Anne Sexton, and Sylvia Plath) or the immediacy of the famous (some would say infamous) Iowa Writers Workshop, which in the persons of Donald Justice, John Berryman, or Rita Dove championed stylish plain-spokenness in both formal and free verse.

Occasionally, a book of poetry materializes out of today’s ether that appears to be genuinely “new” with attributes not often glimpsed in this elitist, ever-dwindling, literary society. Even On Parnassus by Lawrence Cottrell is such a book. Cottrell’s eccentric individualism seems to drive this collection with a unique diction, which surprises, and with unusual wordage stirred into the fast-flowing cadences.

In his poem Gods Cottrell imagines himself as a demi-god or advisor in divinity’s court. He juxtaposes humanity’s flesh and blood nature with its empyrean aspirations. The insight both unsettles and intoxicates him. From the heart of the poem listen to the internal rhymes and the lovely elegiac cadence,

Comrades leave me, one by one, bonny bairns and plain,

Yet swallow gyre above the Elk and daisies crowd June’s

Roads again…

life a chaplet for each rue.

Being’s as it must, jigs and minuets of dust, but, as a man

in this exotic wild, I’d have it otherwise,

Be birthing with each age, death shed by molting soul;

Christ would ask me for advice on King or char, if a tide

Should top the bar, if I approved of Armageddon;

I’d too have keys to locks of kingdom come…

Gifts, a poem of longing and unrequited desire, imagined by an empathetic observer, is without question my favorite poem in Cottrell’s collection. A fanciful lady, ensconced in the safety of her known world, comes to grips with the marvelous and adventurous beyond her reach and now, perhaps, beyond her time. She conjures up a caravan with allusions to the Magi and sees herself as a valuable gift to be given to her chosen, if illusory, beloved. The poem’s opening mixes mystery and desire in proper proportions,

‘Twixt Palmyra and Tashkent, no sounds but camels’ hooves on

Sand, hypnotic sway of tinkling bridle bells,

Caravans of gifts along the wadis and the dunes, by her life’s oasis,

Bound to far off places…a literary rogue in Isfahan, a prodigy near


the wanton moods of some Khayyam…

While yearns that lady in the starlight…

Charitable actions done in the name of organized religion are often caricatured and downplayed in importance or, even worse, tinged with suspect motivations. These good people, for the most part, who provide necessities of life for the indigent, do it in a very personal way that public services, however well-meant, cannot. The Dorothy Days of this world should never be underestimated. Cottrell’s persona, in his poem Hissom’s Tabernacle, details one of these very incidents that he is reminded of each time he passes by a certain Christian church. The piece concludes this way,

Where the congregation found us, waif and strays on

Mercy’s stoop,

Fed us for its sake and ours, faith’s freshet pouring


That my brothers, four and two then, don’t remember…

When we, liege-men of want, saw blessings crowd like

Quaker ladies April yards…

When Fisher Kings filled hunger’s void one December,


like Lazarus,

‘rose our futures from their biers –

As rain turns to snow in the bitter winds of April, Cottrell mulls on humanity’s condition and gives some good advice to future generations in his poem entitled Patience. Consider these lines of homespun wisdom,

Patience, lad

Soon, rain will be just rain, not harbinger of ice on ponds,

The fixing in mid stride of itinerant life, a netting of ado

by hoarfrost…

Be tropical elixir for the ever young, this kingdom on the

inward side of eyes,

Which, howsoever fisted by the imperator, time, grown

jaded in December,

is ardent nestling come a spring…

from somewhere in the gloom

shadows sing—

Life, by chance or fate, sometimes sends unlikely heroes our way to guide us through difficulties. Cottrell’s Jim Bob is a poem that relates one of those tales. The product of a hardscrabble life, the poet’s older cousin saved him from a “ten year old savage,” an old story to be sure, but one that would leave a lasting impression on the targeted victim. Here the poet depends on the efficaciousness of his art to return the favor,

So I owe my cousin this mention in dispatches to


To say that he, just one more ripple of the ruck, your usual


Made his mark on me (at least), was something more than


And I would have you (and God, perhaps, in case He has


Know of him, howsoever sweep like brooms the second

hands of clocks these reveries of dust—

Cottrell’s persona in Entr’acte, the last poem in the collection, humbly muses that his own work consists of “the mostly honest metres of {a} jongler.” Perhaps. But, in addition, his poetics most certainly suggest a major talent, who has composed extraordinary verses transcending what was once the modern, or the merely “new.”

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