Sunday, October 18, 2015
“Syllabus Of Errors: Poems”
Troy Jollimore, who professes philosophy at Chico State University, is also an acclaimed poet. His first poetry book, “Tom Thomson In Purgatory,” won the 2006 National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry. His new collection, “Syllabus Of Errors: Poems” ($16.95 in paperback from Princeton University Press; also for Amazon Kindle) is for the birds.
At least its five sections pay homage to the songs of birds, “sound-lovers, who cultivate the pursuit of sound-combinations as an art,” to quote Walter Garstang’s “Songs Of The Birds” from 1922, and for Jollimore the poet is no less a lover of sounds. “On Birdsong,” the first poem in the book, puts it this way: “Poison, in proportion, is medicinal./ Medicine, ill-meted, can be terminal.// Brute noise, deftly repeated, becomes musical./ An exit viewed from elsewhere is an entrance. …”
Wrapped in the celebration of sounds, the poet seems this time out more pensive, more aware of loss, less patient with hackneyed philosophy. “Reason informs us,” the poet says in “Critique Of Judgment,” “that birdsong is sublime/ but can’t be beautiful: beauty is conferred/ solely by operations of the human mind./ Meanwhile, from that low-hanging branch, the lyrebird// is waging an ongoing, spirited battle/ against philosophy….”
While “twentieth-century artists were trying to tell us … that anything could be art,” the poet of “Ache And Echo” is having none of it. Those artists held beauty “in contempt.” “But me, I can’t// give up my beauty, I’m an addict, a beauty/ fiend; if you want to take it away/ you’re going to have to pry it from my cold dead hands.”
This is no ethereal unreal beauty, but something brute, bodily; there’s “the pain/ of being some particular body,// of dragging a narrative behind you,/ like a swimmer tangled up/ in heavy nets, feeling the ocean,// its whole weight, beneath him….”