Extensive Travels: A Review by Marilyn Kay Basel
"Gabrielli travels extensively from Salento, Italy, where he produces extra virgin olive oil," says the author's blurb at the finish, which could easily have served as introduction, since any excursion into the poetry of 13th Century Turkish Dervish Jalaluddin Rumi must be considered extensive travel in many ways. And to combine inspirations from Rumi with these looks at the vast subject of human love also invites the soul into many delightful cognitive wanderings.
The elephant in the room is the validity of derivative writing--is poetry in conversation with or leaping off the raft of another poet's work in the same class as poetry that is not connected to another poet's work in any obvious way? Responses may include those who say no, and dismiss this slim yet far-reaching volume as a collaboration more than a creative work. Others may respond a resounding yes, observing that Garbrielli's poems, though they follow quotes from Rumi, do not imitate Rumi's voice in any way, and themselves present a variety of forms and perspectives on love that cannot be traced to Rumi in any way. For example, page 16 brings out of the Rumi cornucopia this riddle, "What is the body? That shadow of a shadow of your love, that somehow contains the whole universe." The poem on page 17 neither answers the riddle nor formally takes the rhetoric of question and answer, though one might expect that. Instead, we get a litany of verses that begin "into you i tiptoed..." with each stanza repeating the "into you" in new and ever more visceral, sensual developments until it concludes:
free from the vessels of hate
drinking ancient wines
from the tipsy chalice of kiss
i have always been
before you and after you
love of my loves"
and thus the poet presents other riddles specific to Gabrielli's work, only tangentially associated with the Rumi riddle. As a riddle introduces a directed inquiry, one would expect the poem following it to take the same implied direction. Gabrielli's offering presents completely new directions of inquiry, with a sequence of observations that do not clearly define the "I" of the poem or the "you" of the poem, so that several readings of poem V become possible. The "I" could be the poet, and the "you," Rumi; the I could be one human lover, and the "you" another human lover who in the act of loving transcends the body and the notion of chronological time; or, the "I" could be the poem itself, speaking to the reader's body; or it could be the individual reaching a mystical epiphany. By suggestive nuance Gabrielli achieves this complexity. Perhaps not like all readers, I very much appreciate the ambiguity that allows this much about love and the body to be included in one poem. As a reader always taking note of how form allows poets to say what ordinary language cannot say, I delight in this form's ability to lead me to consider form as a dominant component of meaning in these poems.
Poems that make a reader conscious of form as an ingredient of meaning are not new to this poet. His previous book The Parallel Body takes poetry out of the service of confessional lyricism into a consideration of how voice and form reflect on our habits of thinking, and the reasons we write at all. It takes poetry a step forward into the literary future by showing how one can use the properties of language to engage a reader in writing theory without being inaccessible, didactic, boring or prescriptive. While the book as a whole achieves a cognitive and abstract effect, while reading the poems one is involved with images, cadences, and tones of voice that do not allow the experience at any time to be colorless as the words "cognitive" and "abstract" can connote.
Gabrielli's pronouns are not like any other poet's pronouns. We are not required to read the "I" as the poet himself in some autobiographical way. We may be listening to any being speak to another being as denoted by the "You" which is also left described vaguely enough to allow several different readings of the same poem, as interpersonal, lover to lover, or lover to a mystic presence that transcends all pronouns. I have to think Rumi, who wrote that all pronouns are incorrectly too specific, and therefore irrelevant, would be rejoicing to read how A Strange Frenzy demonstrates and explores that potential in poetic language.
If this discussion is more than what you seek in a book of love poems, don't despair. At face value the quotes, poems, and charming because primitive drawings by Emily Faccini in this volume make it a good bedside companion for lovers in love. Or lovers remembering love from some distance. Or lovers who have yet to discover how personal and yet transcendent the experience of love can be. Gabrielli's poems may be more theory conscious than Rumi's, yet they court and spark many of the same delights that Rumi evokes as he looks at a universe of love. Therefore I recommend this book to writers, foremost, and also to lovers of all ages, who may be inspired to write by the achievements of both Rumi and the poet who by this volume recommends him handsomely.