Into the Ruins
by Frederick Glaysher
Distributed by Baker & Taylor, Ingram, and Amazon.
Rochester, MI, 1999. $17.95.
Frederick Glaysher's Into the Ruins is not for weak-hearted readers, nor for those who are unwilling to note a correlation between their lives and the poems. The experience is that of Dante's Inferno, without the exit. Glaysher challenges mainstream poets to shift emphasis, to focus on contemporary problems; however, his challenge is primarily in content. In his forms, he embraces current trends in the lyric, straying from the experiments occurring in the wake of the language poets. His use of the lyric, the subjective form, is the only troubling aspect of his work for me. On the whole, the collection displays the work of a poet with an ear for language, whose vision, though bleak, is able to focus on the complications and the horrors of the contemporary world.
In the preface Glaysher announces his attempt to avoid contemporary poetry's obsession with the self by using engaged poetry; he states: "Now at the end of the twentieth century, far from withdrawing further into the self and into an obfuscating use of language, poets must turn to viewing and contemplating the real world, where men butcher and kill, love and hate, aspire and sometimes achieve" (x). Unlike many poets who make similar statements, Glaysher follows through by grappling which such problems as racism and genocide. At high points, his poetry captures the feelings of contingency and horror felt by many but expressed well by few.
Throughout the collection, a dark sentiment pervades that guides the reader through haunting images of violence. For example, from "Oracle Bones":
Tien forgotten, a century of convulsion;
democracy, a goddess of mercy engulfed;
a roll soaked in human blood, no medicine;
all the Long Marches leading nowhere. (1-4)
Again, from "Into the Ruins":
Smoke curls above the ruins of Lebanon
that smother the bodies of those
who had hoped for peace.
Behind broken walls broken men and women
seek refuge from a fury that stalks them. (1-5)
These are images not seen on the nightly news or in the writing of most poets. In The Life of
Poetry, Muriel Rukeyser considers similar poems as "total response(s)" to horrific experiences and as witnesses. Unlike Rukeyser, however, Glaysher does not present hope for future peoples. His vision is as bleak as Leopardi's, but his range of images comes from around the globe and from different periods in the century. He presents images of violence from Cambodia, Africa, Lebanon, Germany, China, and other places, as if to say that in our turn towards globalism that we must look beyond terms of capitalism alone to human rights.
Glaysher fits well within the literary tradition, as he shows with his allusions to or mentions of, among others, Augustine, Dante, Yeats, Dostoyevsky, and Hayden; however, his voice is distinct. Among contemporary poets, few have a vision as darkly haunting as the one presented in this collection. Few also have the knowledge and the ability to handle contemporary issues with such presence of language. Out of the mass of recent poetry books, here is one you should read.
© by William Allegrezza
According to the ancients, politics began with the city, initiating the struggle for larger numbers of human beings, unknown to one another, to live together in something like peace and stability, something other than chaos and anarchy. We've been at it ever since. Often failing, stumbling, hobbling along, with much backsliding, alas, many convulsions. As the building blocks have grown, we haven't always felt comfortable under the constraints, been appalled by our own failings, forged on, hoping for the best, doubting, often resisting the bitter lessons until it was too late. The city has become the globe. It shouldn't surprise us that the greatest poets, such as Homer and Virgil, cared deeply about life in the city, in peace and war, about the human condition outside their own little personal lives, took it all in as a given, rejected all the narrow, formal, stifling limitations.
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