michael t young

The Mystery of Systems by Carl Rosentstock

mystery

By Michael T. Young

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The poems in Carl Rosenstock’s collection The Mystery of Systems are reflective and move with a subtle lyricism, sometimes enchanting, as in the opening of “The Passport”:
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In shadows, it seems I see things not quite seen —
The night breaking into scraps around
A sentry’s hands that hide a match flame
As I lean forward to accept the light.
(22)
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The internal rhymes and slant rhymes of these lines accentuate the beauty of a poetry that probes and pushes toward difficult perceptions. While it tries to “see things not quite seen,” at times, this poetry also brings us to attention with a pointed insight, as when Rosenstock says, “There is no cure for that/Which is accomplished” (36).
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The central metaphor of the collection is that of photography of which a prose passage in the collection declares,
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Yet, almost from its inception, the photograph could be, has been, manipulated, to reproduce a most realistic image of something that, in fact, did not exist outside itself.
(84)
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This idea of the photograph as a deception tells us much about the love poems that bookend the collection, as well as the title itself. All the artifice that goes into a photograph, a piece of music, a poem, and all the rules governing a system, lie outside those systems, are ulterior to the things those rules and artifices produce, like the frame around a painting. The proem to the collection, “For the Audience” ends:
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                            I rise
To my feet as the music
Must surely be servant
To the dancer. Your dance
Grace and symmetry: this is love.
I applaud you. I love you.
Love, not trust:
Trust is madness.
(16)
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The speaker here, though not yet known, is Paganini, who is the speaker of the final poem in the Afterword. In this opening poem, the split between love and trust, which one might call madness itself, is remade in the fractures of memory and manipulated perception inherent in the collection’s scrutiny. As “I Depend On You . . .” puts it,
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Not the accretion

 Of detail, but the selection —
Order and moment discerned
Among casual things.
(24)
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The “grace and symmetry” in the dance is choreography, another manipulation of art. The quandary is in the subtle equation of love and artifice. If our deepest affection is expressed in artistic form, which is artifice or manipulation, then love cannot be trusted. It recalls Orwell’s comment that “All art is propaganda.”

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But Orwell also said, “not all propaganda is art.” However, if we are to learn from art, we must keep in mind that it’s manipulating us to perceive things a certain way; we must step back to find out where it’s taking us and what it teaches. In other words, don’t assume it’s benevolence or innocuousness. Unfortunately, we tend to believe what we see and so are susceptible to deception, the same way the one in love is. Hence the madness of trust and how, within the collection, certain things remain hidden, figures slip into legend, deaths are recounted as justified in self-defense, and words themselves sometimes become walls. The third section of the book is a masterful creation of 2 imaginary Russian poets, presented with translations of their poems and a history explained in the context of a photograph from the archive of a third poet who slipped out of view just as the photo was snapped, “the blur of his right leg in the lower right hand corner.” Wonderfully, this is the very poet whose style of poetry, “Maximalism,” is the largest influence on the 2 poets “translated.” He is that outside influence, the mystery of systems, the unseen or unacknowledged pressure framing the image.

We’re told, “the light writes surfaces; the rest, the depths, remains dark.” However, a song or music seems to persist in the ears of many in the collection. Reality cannot be wholly suppressed by artifice or lost in falsehood and it surfaces as a kind of unidentifiable tune. So, in the middle section of “Confessions of a Christ Killer,” the speaker says,
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Even now I hear

 This song . . . I can’t
Remember the name.
(44)
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And in the poem “Anonymity” by the fictional poet Lazarev, we read
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In my head, I hear a tune
I heard once — a trick of memory.
I’ve forgotten whence this
Air has come, and search
For a few words to remind me
Where I heard it.
(63)
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It’s the echo too from Paganini, from the first and last poems. Playing off the love of Paganini for the singer Antonia Bianchi, the concluding poem in the Afterword confesses what is the final sacrifice.
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. . . once I made the wood sing, dark
Singing like a hummingbird’s wings, and for that
The tithe I’ll pay to Hell I fear is myself.
(91)
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The love is the art, the form. What’s sacrificed to it, as often is the case with love, is the self. The art, the love, remains. What we have in these poems, in this collection, is a marvelously written poetry that looks deeply into the nature of art itself. It is a long elegy, perhaps we might say a lament to the inevitable sacrifice the artist makes but also the inherent problems of perception everyone confronts in just trying, as Matthew Arnold put it, to “be true/To one another!” Perhaps what the poem “8 X 10” says of shadows can be said of trust,
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It is true, I suppose,
That, as you move closer
To your shadow, the ratio
Approaches one to one.
(27)
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Poetry helps us move closer to that one to one ratio, and particularly poetry like this. Closing The Mystery of Systems, one senses that by looking long and closely at the artifice in art and everyday relationships, by moving with it in poems both beautiful and thoughtful, one might be able to be a little more honest. The collection is one of the many arguments for how poetry can make the world a little better.

You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Mystery-Systems-Carl-Rosenstock/dp/1625492197

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Michael T. Young’s third full-length collection, The Infinite Doctrine of Water, was published by Terrapin Books. HIs other collections include The Beautiful Moment of Being Lost and Transcriptions of Daylight. His chapbook, Living in the Counterpoint, received the Jean Pedrick Award. Young also received a Fellowship from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. His poetry, essays, and reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in numerous journals including Cimarron Review, The Cortland Review, The Los Angeles Review, Shrew, The Smart Set, and Valparaiso Poetry Review. Young lives with his wife, children, and cats in Jersey City, New Jersey.

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The Seas Are Dolphins’ Tears By Djelloul Marbrook.

Book Cover_Seas Are Dolphins Tears_
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Michael T. Young
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The latest collection by poet Djelloul Marbrook, The Seas Are Dolphins’ Tears, follows the arc of a trajectory one can trace back to perhaps his fourth collection, Brash Ice, one following an ever-deepening engagement with the mysteries of spiritual awakening. It is signaled by the opening quote from Ibn al ‘Arabi, a Muslim mystic of the early 13th century. From there we enter a poetry that is spare and startling. No capitalization or punctuation delimits the explorations we set out on. We are instead invited to question everything from grammatical nuance to identity. It is a language that is simultaneously direct and absurd, a kind of magic that reveals truth beyond logic and where paradox jars the senses.
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in the heart of such familiarity
i cannot find my way
one must be one’s own light
in cracks between ordinariness
and exquisite punishments
— “lost in the midst of finding
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Marbrook’s poetry turns inward and walks the path between polarities as the language of ecstatic poetry does. External realities manifest themselves as turmoil in the internal spiritual terrain. Boundaries of self and other breakdown not into illusions but mutually affirming realities, the interdependence of all things. Following Marbrook’s poetry from his first to latest collection, one sees a poet who refuses to divorce physical necessity from spiritual subtlety. Unlike many who assert the dominance of one of these realms over the other, Marbrook remains devoted to the truth of their balance and a poetics that reveals the connection of spirit and body in all its diverse facets.
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I notice that the best of us
counterclockwise bear
sea rains to refresh
the brittleness of drought
that ravages our innards
— “panic”
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As so much of this book does, these lines recall mystical texts, as here, we confront the aridity of the soul or “innards” as St. John the Divine did in Dark Night of the Soul. That “brittleness of drought” is soothed by a return to primal sources, those “sea rains,” for the sea often, in poetic tradition, is an image of creative potential or, in other words, the unconscious. That counterclockwise motion is the return and it echoes in various other contraries of place and time, self and other throughout the collection, for instance, as “’there’ is the most elusive word,” or “he is a woman,” or “we are most of all/what we think we’ve lost.” While this journey leads us to elvish tables and faerie parties, such fantastic encounters do not abandon compassion for our very real fellow living beings. That would not be in keeping with the humanity that pervades Marbrook’s poetry.
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            remember that
tortured beasts
      thrash beneath
            every sorrow
                  & imprisoned thing
— “leviathan”
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Or again,
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if methane did not leak
from political endeavor
if we could die assured
of so much loveliness after us
i could simply shut my mouth
—“words flee”
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Much of Marbrooks’ earlier poetry overtly confronts social issues and artistic needs while allowing spiritual underpinnings to surface within that framework. He has, in this new collection, reversed that order and we now see the worldly problems from a spiritual perspective, a perspective that does not include silence before political folly or ecological disaster. In this sense, these poems partake of the surreal tradition by which given boundaries are tested or broken down and which inherently dissents with established politics and norms. However, the trajectory of Marbrook’s project reaches further back and forward than the present collection, a trajectory that reveals a marvelous balance and beauty in his poetry, a great breadth of poetic vision, something too large for a single collection. Marbrook is a poet of great scope who packs an epic power into poems of incredible lyrical compression. This may be one way of seeing the journey of a spiritual awakening itself, that is as a narrative traveled inside a lyrical moment.
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parts no one has touched
since i was an astonished boy
parts god and women for all their wiles
have not found    they have gone ahead of me
to find you whom i was forced to leave behind.
— “questions the parts”
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Astonishment is a variety of the sublime, that experience of the transcendent often too profound for our crude sensibilities to bear. So, this racing on ahead to find what was left behind is not merely past is prologue, but how that spiritual awakening is a remembrance, the recovery of a fundamental insight as if we all are born with our lips still glistening from the waters of Lethe.
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One may, at times, be baffled by these poems, but that is in the way a Zen koan can be baffling, which is by a language meant to break us free of the torpor of routine logic, that prison nearly invisible to us because its bars are made of our daily thoughts. These poems, however, are written in that language which is a prelude to enlightenment. The Seas Are Dolphins’ Tears makes an incredible addition to the growing oeuvre of this versatile and gifted poet.
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You can find the book here:

 https://www.amazon.com/Seas-Are-Dolphins-Tears/dp/190984960X

 Michael T. Young’s third full-length collection, The Infinite Doctrine of Water, was published by Terrapin Books. HIs other collections include The Beautiful Moment of Being Lost and Transcriptions of Daylight. His chapbook, Living in the Counterpoint, received the Jean Pedrick Award. Young also received a Fellowship from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. His poetry, essays, and reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in numerous journals including Cimarron Review, The Cortland Review, The Los Angeles Review, Shrew, The Smart Set, and Valparaiso Poetry Review. Young lives with his wife, children, and cats in Jersey City, New Jersey.