An independent small press poetry review

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One of the great pleasures gained by reading John Bloomberg-Rissman's poetry is the awareness that every poem, both singly and when placed together as a body of work, demonstrates a belief in the possibilities language might have to truthfully and energetically communicate experience, thought and feeling. Bloomberg-Rissman manifestly has faith in a poetry that can presume to speak of life with straightforward clarity and wisdom. In this way his work appeals to a radical sense of shared experience and common histories, and seeks to recover and render contemporary, not without irony, the function of poetry as a vehicle for insight, as a conduit between the individual and the bigger picture.

THE BEAUTIFUL DISTRACTIONS is, therefore, an intriguing work to appear at a time when what could be described as the Gnostic, visionary tradition, seems worn out, largely disconnected from the material and social emergencies we live with day to day. The title poem in this collection preforms a gesture typical of such poetics. Instead of great thoughts to inspire him, the poet hears the

	Which blew hard all morning
	Sounding like a ghost amid the trees.
The poem is expansive, the poet's physical and imaginative memories generating both the material cosmos radiating from thought to action and forming allusions to other poets such as Yuan Mei and Rilke, painting, the Romans and a final
	refuge in the sunshine.
Naturally, this world of imagined infinity, will somehow always sublimely exceed the capacity for language to describe it, and Bloomberg-Rissman appeals directly to the creative, poetic material that might work to reveal the cosmos as it is. His magic extends the romantic armoury to include ideas and motifs derived from contemporary knowledge to what lies deeply hidden within the self. This he exhibits in A SONG:
	What's the use of worrying?
	Things will turn out terribly.
BIRD SONG explores the theme of the poet wishing to be
	exalted like Abraham
but content to be like
	Warming anonymous legs
	By the fire.
The correspondence between lived experience, memory, concept of self and language stimulates the revelation of knowledge. Bloomberg-Rissman's frequent references to the experience of writing also suggests, in addition to their being put to use as tropes of the transcendent, a broader sensitivity to the material limits of experience and understanding. His work is made more interesting by its constant focus on sensual experience, the poet's delight in "soft moons", "beautiful lines", "waves", "pelicans" and "butterflies" are a pleasurable outcome in SO MANY MORE MORNINGS. The combined process of sensation and memory are therefore marked by Bloomberg-Rissman as the primary ground from which all other knowledge proceeds. For instance, poems such as IN PRAISE OF LICHEN, I WALK AND I WALK, THE FEATHER OF MAAT show the poet working to overcome the anxiety of not knowing by way of immersion in sensation. When he writes that he is
	Just another man
	Wrapped in his warm dreaming flesh,
Bloomberg-Rissman articulates a double process whereby the universe is felt and understood, is taken into the poem, to the extent that the poet simultaneously opens and expands outward to describe it.

Of course, Bloomberg-Rissman is not unaware of this self-generative impulse. His poems, particularly those that describe mundane experiences, such as opening the office door, are unexpectedly transformed by total knowledge and experience into something intimate and infinite. Bloomberg-Rissman reminds us that all forms of knowledge, both the commonplace and the poetic, require some form of measurement, that against the possibilities of an infinite code there is always the fact of the single instance, that observation, language and description fold all events back into history. In REAL HALF MOON he writes

	I look at the Thai Buddha
	And notice the gesture
	Suchness trumps Mara
	His right hand
	Should be touching the ground
	It hovers instead
	An inch above it
	We're not saved yet.
THE BEAUTIFUL DISTRACTIONS is deepened in effect by the humility of such lines, and the fact that many poems in the collection trace the impact of personal history, the many and varied moments of love, pain and joy, on the poet's greater understanding of what it means to be alive. In this collection, Bloomberg-Rissman shows us that alongside discourse, art and a desire to know, feeling too is a form of knowing. The final poem in the book, MY BETTER REASON IS YOU, returns us to the thoughts with which the volume opened. Returns us to the conceptual and emotional momentum of the book's beginning, in which doubt, and the breach thus exhibited between the world and language, can be managed by a grounded attunment to and relaxation with the flux of emotion, event and perspective:
	To sing and dance before the Lord!
	"Simply because a complaint is good for nothing"
	Thus Milosz in a recent poem
	But I have better reason to sing and dance
	My better reason is you

reviewer: Patricia Prime.