Monday, 3 October 2011

The Cloud Corporation

  It's not that often I get excited about a contemporary volume but here comes Tim Donnelly's The Cloud Corporation (Picador) to replenish our sense of what's possible once again. It's a style I seem to have been waiting for for a long time: an American poet who's actually been able to utilise and build on the rich, distinctive resources inherent in the achievements of Wallace Stevens. There's a good deal of Stevens in Ashbery, of course; and Ashbery seems to be Donnelly's second major influence, though tellingly what he takes from Ashbery is less the disjunctive, skittish manner of The Tennis -Court Oath than the more sentence-lead, meditative poetry of Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror.
   Stevens is immediately evident in the beautifully elaborate titles Donnelly gives many of his poems - 'Partial Inventory of Air-borne Debris', 'The Last Dream of Light Released from Seaports', 'Team of Fake Deities Arranged On An Orange Plate' - whereas 'The Malady That Took the Place of Thinking' is clearly a play on Stevens' 'The Poem That Took the Place of a Mountain' (with a possible further nod to the line "The malady of the quotidian..." from 'The Man Whose Pharynx Was Bad'). The sequence of poems which gives The Cloud Corporation its title seems intimately related to Stevens' great modulation-piece 'Sea-Surface Full of Clouds' in the way its three-line sections spiral off from a repeating phrase - "The clouds part revealing..." ( and to acknowledge this reference, in the final section we find " and warm, saturated air on the sea-surface rising".) Donnelly also frequently favours an "essential gaudiness" of diction and sound which - albeit more wryly deployed than in Stevens - works towards a playful undermining of the poetry's abstract leanings - rather like the "counter-eloquence" Montale spoke of aspiring to.
   There's also something very interesting in the way Donnelly handles syntax, as he straddles his long sentences over lines that seem too short to contain them, almost as though he's thinking in terms of the extended, groping, musing, tentacular "sentence-sounds" of a Whitman or CK Williams but wants to abut it against the formal restraint and shapeliness of a shorter line and stanzaic patternings. The effects can be - as you can see here - extremely beautiful:
   " To notice wind incite the branches to interact in a manner
      mistakable for happiness when happiness has stopped

     seeming so implausible.Just to see the gold bolt through air
     is explanation enough, a knowledge that opens itself up
     without ending, an end in itself without having to conclude.
     Just to breathe on purpose is an act of faith in this world."
                                                                   ('Explanation Of An Oriole')

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