Spanning just one year of Brett Rutherford's poetic output, this 264-page collection shows the American neo-Romantic, Gothic poet at the peak of his powers. The new poems include biting satires and laments about the current decline of the United States, as might be expected from a self-professed "outsider." But there are many facets to this dazzling kaleidoscope of a book: childhood memories of the coal and coke towns of his Pennsylvania childhood; riveting narratives such as that of a freezing woman going from door to door begging for coal, or a grandmother telling her grandson about "the things that happen to women" living alone in the country; and memories of college years overshadowed by the Vietnam War. The supernatural, as always plays a large role, as an invisible monster lurks in a Pennsylvania swamp, angry Native American spirits pop the windows off skyscrapers and snap the wings off airplanes, Medieval thieves are magically prevented from robbing an Abbey; and the tale of a Danish girl, a raven, and her lover's eyeball. One of the darkest poems here is an imagined monologue of the crazed military Roman Emperor Domitian, as he leads a group of senators and oligarchs into his subterranean "Black Room."
Translations from Spanish, French, Old English, German, Danish, and Old Norse show the poet working in the tradition of American poets such as Longfellow, tapping the poems and lore of other times and cultures, yet making of them new works that delight (and caution) today's reader. Rutherford does not employ rhyme, so these adaptations flow like highly-condensed sketches or stories. At the heart of this book is a poem cycle started four decades ago and only now finished, an adaptation and expansion from German Rainer Maria Rilke's Duino Elegies, titled Fatal Birds of the Soul. It transcends any label, not translation, not mere adaptation, swallowing the lines of Rilke into a web of interrogations.
The book also includes another cycle, as far from serious German verse as can be imagined. Titled Buster, or The Unclaimed Urn, it is an imaginary cat book about the adventures of a winged housecat. Based on notes left behind by poet Barbara A. Holland, this long narrative poem shows what happens when two Gothic poets attempt to write a "children's book." Of course no child would ever be allowed to read a book about drowned kittens, eating mice, and the horrors of being "snipped" at the veterinarian's office.
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