The Use of the World
Paperback, 42 pages, $12
Reviewed by PQ Contributing Editor Arthur McMaster
Dan Albergotti's new, small volume contains twenty-two poems, themselves mostly modest in size, though not in scope. Each poem is ripe with energy and a world-weary wisdom. The poet offers three ghazals (never easy to do well), twelve interconnecting American sonnets, all contemplating "other worlds," along with a pantoum and a marvelous sestina riffing on Shakespeare. He also offers a few rhyming couplets, and a prose poem ABOUT a sestina. Whew! This is impressive work, and Albergotti proves he is adept at the use of received form.
The twelve sonnets make up the core and arguably constitute the purpose, or theme, of the book. In each of these fantasies, dominated by an old blind king, one man struggles to "make his work real." There is perhaps a sense of Old Nordic lore at play here, but there is also a message that suggests that no artist gets what he desires on the cheap from any "lord.” What beauty he sees he cannot be sure of. Death and destruction often have the upper hand. If these are fairy stories they are more Grimm than Anderson.
Consider the poem, "Sonnet Written in One of the Other Worlds:"
I'm trying to write a poem to please the king
who's old and blind and lord of another world.
He asks for sonnets, says that everything
must fit the form's demands. His sheet's unfurled
before me now, so I must make a start:
I sing to you, my king, and here's my song:
I want to eat your lovely daughter's heart.
I want to play this sonnet's meter wrong
and save its very truth until the end. . .
But in this world the truth will never pass.
The old, blind king will never comprehend:
his silent censors cut each couplet ass.
More than a few of these finely crafted poems remind me of the work of William Blake, who pretty much owns outright the so-called Black-White tableau—the quintessential ground we recognize immediately as Experience and Innocence.
Albergotti's poem "GOD" is written in free verse. Here, below 125th street, a small engine breaks down. A repairman is needed. "When it breaks down the people look around, wait in silence / for the repairman to appear and convert their anxiety / to awe." The machine is coaxed back to life, down in the tunnels with "a faint chorus of angelic voices that sounds / just the slightest bit like the whir of wheels on rails."
One more poem, not a sonnet—and I could truly pick from any page and be as content—particularly intrigues me. When man questions existential purpose, the journey of the soul, the treacly business of afterlife, he is most vulnerable. The poet invites his readers to make just such an inquiry in this one, a poem tight in rhyme and meter.
THESE BE HECTIORING LARGE-SCALE VERSES
[and owing perhaps a nod to Philip Larkin's "This be the Verse" ]
They fuck you up, the father, son,
and most of all the holy ghost —
that vague idea beyond icon,
a wholly insubstantial host.
But of the fucked we're not the first,
and, God knows, we won't be last.
Whole generations have been cursed
by phantom words throughout the past.
Men hand a history down to Man—
a ghost-writ volume signed by God.
Its blood-red verses pulse and scan
and mark with stones the fresh-laid sod.
We fight and maim and kill and hate in the name of the Word. Another poet who does the difficult theme of humanism in verse well is Philip Appleman. With this volume from Unicorn Press, I cannot believe a poet of our day has said it all better than has Mr. Albergotti.
Arthur McMaster's poems have appeared in such journals as North American Review, Rattle, Rhino, and Subtropics, with one Pushcart nomination. He has two published chapbooks, the first having been selected by the South Carolina Arts Commission's Poetry Initiative. His memoir Need to Know is available from Outskirts Press.