Life Beyond Self-Definition
M. K. Basel reviews this body now : les instants du corps, by Dom Gabrielli, Editions Baz ' Art Poetique (Clamart France) 2016.
Any writer, any book, is born into a world already in progress. No one is without legacy. Any activity takes place against the backdrop of all other events, including all that has happened on the recent timeline still within consciousness of writers and readers. We do not write on blank slates. Our words will be taken in context of all other words we have seen and heard. For example, readers of our age are aware of popular culture turned inward on itself, obsessed with instantly sharable surfaces. Some share up to a hundred or more "selfies" per day. That is natural progression for the post-modern age obsessed with self--self-actualization, self-congratulation, self-celebration, self-gratification, and self stimulation. Time itself seems to be self-pleasuring, says the poem on page 24.
In the world of books, this obsession was called confessionalism. Modern writers cut adrift from the past were obsessed with finding themselves in a rapidly-changing world they invented as they went along. How to get past autobiography, past self-definition became the next step of that journey. Readers aching for poetry more engaging than celebrity worship can find it abundantly in Gabrielli's poems that reference the inhumane desert of culture without being seduced by it.
Early in these poems Gabrielli pushes the boundaries of usual speech. The opening riddle (page 14) invites us to upgrade the reading experience:
other than this lament....
I am looking for you
turn inside out
orphan cello of lost time
This opening promises to explore mystery with anticipation of discovery as we are led poem by poem, word after word, pause after pause. The poet has peeled down his motivation. The poems move through a series of unmaskings. He stands, the others in the poems stand, he wants us to stand without pretense in shared wonder of what exists apart from endless self-definition. This is the Gabrielli we know and love whose careful speech takes us along as he seeks ever more pure levels of authenticity.
Authenticity is the salient feature of Gabrielli's work. His pronouns are more than they would be in any other human document. His "we" is the "we" of human consciousnesses touching in the most intimate way. When the poems speak of physical intimacies at the same time they convey the closure of distance between the real life behind his words and the reader who drinks it in. It dawns on the reader that the book is alive now that the mind interacts with Gabrielli's words, and this is a magic as old as written language. A kiss in a Gabrielli poem here is not merely the mental picture of a kiss; it is the meeting of two minds, the touch of the reader's mind to the writer's mind.
The metaphor is apt. Gabrielli writes with passion, anticipating how his words might unfold meaning in the minds of his reader. In a world obsessed with surfaces, images reduced to possible icons, in a world where love has been reduced to serial collisions, Gabrielli passionately celebrates human connection. The book celebrates its ability to spur the reader to thought. There are realities beyond the superficial that are worth what it takes to seek them.
One does not have to be a writer to get Gabrielli's message about the value of written words. He is not subtle to announce it and is not tentative about achievement. Consider this poem from page 92:
it is not what i say
it is what i don't say
the almond flower knows
the black grass snake
when you are not you
when the poem meanders through you
toward an imperceptible truth
This most recent offering from Gabrielli is printed in both English and French. He has explored in it what it means to read and write and what it means to be translated. The post-script letter to his translator Laetitia makes this clear, in case we missed it. Foregrounding, a concern of contemporary writers super-conscious of the limits of language, is the beast under the microscope of Gabrielli's passionate attention. While some have managed to lament those limitations, Gabrielli goes as promised beyond lament. What he finds beyond the self is global relevance, the pervasiveness of archetype and metaphor, and truths of human connection that transcend time and place.
Unfolding like a blossom midway through the book, the poet says beauty cuts like a razor through the fabric of gratuitous tragedy that can persuade one to despair. Poem by poem shows us time allows beauty to break through into even the worst scenarios. In these poems beauty is heroic, renewing hope, giving us reason to keep showing up to our lives even as bleak as prospects for a peaceful life may be. Beauty is luckily for us here before us and persists after, or maybe our resistances to boredom and alienation are her messengers sent to turn our lives away from allegiance to hatred and war. It turns out beauty, for this poet, is the hidden muse, one of the eternal truths that resides rather beyond the grasp of words. It is noble beauty that allows us to come to terms with time's trajectory that by the book's finish dissolves in songs of victory.
These poems are touchstones to peace. They affirm our lives have value apart from subservience to acts of violence, to governments in conflict, or to concerns that make us feel less than we are. They show us how in use of language, in thirst for community we have enough in common with others to commit to authentic unity against the much louder tides of division, violence, and war.