Here is Brett Rutherford’s first new compendium of poems in seven years. Following on The Gods As They Are On Their Planets (2005) and Poems from Providence (1991), this book is a must for fans of this neo-Romantic American poet.
The 94 new poems and revisions in this collection range from a dark-shadowed childhood in the coal and coke region of Western Pennsylvania, to New York City and Providence, Rhode Island. The jolting sequence titled “Out Home” is a poetic memoir of broken families and childhood terrors, and the imminent threat of kidnapping and mutilation by “Doctor Jones,” a crazed surgeon who roams the countryside in a sinister roadster. The small boy of these poems is already a self-styled outsider, defining his difference from the crushing environment around him.
In “Past the Millennium” and “Ars Poetica,” the full-grown poet soars, with politically-charged poems on Solzhenitsyn, the self-immolation of Czech martyr Jan Palach, and the imagined overtaking of Bush and Cheney by “The Black Huntsman.” Rutherford walks in Poe’s footsteps on a Hudson River pier, visits ancient Rome for a chat with the lawgiving King Numa Pompilius, and puts Poe to work tracking down a cemetery spectre in 1848 Providence. Two historic verse plays give voice to the mad Carlota, Empress of Mexico, and two Austrian policemen with an unexpected prisoner on their hands.
Humor abounds in this volume, too, from the possessed sex toys in “A Night in Eddie’s Apartment,” skeptical Martians refusing to believe there’s life on Earth, nine-year-old Dante meeting Beatrice in Providence’s Federal Hill, and a surrealist adventure across Europe as a lost sock-puppet searches for its owner, meeting Sigmund Freud along the way.
A sequence of poems on Love and Eros titled “Love Spells” plumbs the depths of desire and obsession, and presents several powerful elegies, culminating with the poignant “The Loft on Fourteenth Street.” The erotic poems, some set in Ancient Greece and some in the present, are frank and often amusing, perhaps some comfort for those who think the fun ends at thirty.
Ending the book is a clump of supernatural poems, as expected from this heir of Poe and Lovecraft: a story-length poem, “Dawn,” presents the ennui of a 300-year-old vampire; the birth and education of the feared witch Keziah Mason; wind elementals attack the headquarters of Bain Capital in Boston; and Elder Gods arrive to make humans their playthings.
An Expectation of Presences is a wide-ranging and startling collection, romantic, defiant, and bracingly hopeful.