Dee Rimbaud's Dropping Ecstasy with the Angels
One of the most powerful effects of poetry is its ability to evoke emotion or transfer energy. The poet is stimulated by an occasion or emotion, a physical scene or political event. This energy then flows through those who hear and read the piece. (Or, at least it is hoped.) It can be a tremendous phenomenon. One of my personal goals as a poet is to be able to accurately and succinctly describe an emotion or thought so that the recipient experiences the world—for just a moment—exactly as I do. It’s a lofty goal, and I’d be remiss to imagine this to be a goal of other poets. Still, when I read others’ work, particularly a large collection, I look for a semblance of this. As I read through the pieces in Dee Rimbaud’s Dropping Ecstasy with the Angels, however, I couldn’t help but wonder if it was man or machine at work. The distance between the speaker and the poems seems quite expansive and, as such, the distance between the reader and the poem is practically impassable. I found myself asking, “So what?” after many pieces.
Take “Mother of God” as an example. The speaker is struggling to understand the Virgin Mary as human being, as more than just the Mother of "God." This is an interesting premise for a poem and the reader is at first excited when she reads,
But the real flesh and guts woman,
With her milk stained tunics
And work worn hands.
Unfortunately, the poem breaks down here, as the next stanza contemplates Mary’s preferences during fornication. SO WHAT? The reader never really does find out how the speaker learns to relate to Mary as a person and, by the end of the poem, the speaker seems to have forgotten his original question. The poem ends with the speaker offering up his prayers to Mary—that’s about as removed from relating to her as flesh and blood as possible. It’s reverence.
In the poem “Stealing Heavens From the Lips of God” we’re told in the subtitle exactly what is supposed to happen—the SO WHAT is answered—“How to Succeed at Living.” Unfortunately, the reader does not receive profound insights. Instead, she is pelted with clichés and anticlimactic directives: “Be a lighthouse,” “Leave flowers/On the graves of strangers,” “Burn your television.” (In the margin I wrote a note to myself: YAWN.)
This is not to suggest that there are no redeeming qualities to this collection. Rimbaud shows a real sensitivity to the technical aspects of poetry. His pieces are rather consistently well crafted and well constructed. Consider “Asylum Angel.” This short piece (certainly short for Rimbaud, who has quite a few pieces that span three to four pages) is compact in its length and feet. The seven lines range from five to seven syllables each, making for a nice composition on the page. The line breaks are impeccable and the final “couplet” creates a fine (albeit lonely) resolution. These are certainly important qualities in poetry. Other pieces also show Rimbaud’s sensitivity of and talent for the craft of poetry: “An Epitaph,” “A Confession of Love,” and “Innanna Descending,” for example.
Dropping Ecstasy with the Angels is not a collection of poems I would ever purchase. Were I to come across this selection in a book store, I would flip through the pages and then quickly move on to something else. I want the poet in the poems he writes. I’m not suggesting that the speaker be the poet, not confessional poetry necessarily. What’s lacking for me in this collection is the sense that these poems were written for a purpose, a need—and that the poet and the reader are somehow better off at the end of the day. If you want tightly crafted, almost sterile poetry, though, this collection might just be right up your alley.
Rimbaud, Dee. Dropping Ecstasy with the Angels. bluechrome publishing. 2004.