Review by Marilyn Basel
Dom Gabrielli's helpful foreword to The Parallel Body tells us the year that it chronicles for him, 2009, was more eventful than contemplative. He says it was written quickly, instinctively more than shaped by expectations that it should resemble other literature, not even his own previous works. He warns us not to ellide the "you" in every poem into one imagined person--good advice since we tend to assume most writing is at least informed by autobiography, and at its most autobiographical, exists to exorcise personal demons. Gabrielli's last advice to us is his affirmation, "Poetry is our resistance to emotional tyranny." He reminds us of the courage it takes to write poetry that is "vital to our spiritual survival."
The poems in this world-class volume are not titled; they are numbered. His working title appears as "43 poems." So already he has cut us loose from the moorings of the usual narrative forms we have come to expect in the contemporary poetry of voice, from which we see he means to make departure. The poems are to be taken as a sequence, a chronology, more than a personal history or drama that develops by means of revealing titles.
The initial poem discourages the reader from taken even the "I" of the poems as reference to a specific person; this speaker can be any poet, of any literary age:
why was I given
why released from captivity
from what fountain at my side
inside me beside
a river of words and images
you call them scribbles..."
This self-awareness during the process of writing about the purpose and techniques of writing are not just winding up. This is the central riddle of the book as a piece. Whatever the answer to be seen in following poems, this poem continues ..."because the river won't go away/ even if it dries up ...it will die after us...". Riddles to appetize, truths to savor: we do not choose art, it chooses us, we don't invent truths, as if they were not already here when we arrived on the scene, as if truths will not be here long after we are able to discuss them.
Having been schooled by Diane Wakoski, accomplished and prolific writer for the Cult of Personality and the Poetry of Voice in America, I notice off the bat how Gabrielli achieves his effects completely apart from the construction of a persona. This is deliberate; the pronouns in these poems need never be the same person from poem to poem, as he warns. This frees him from the burdens that have troubled American poetry since the confessionalists of the 60s.
Gabrielli is an Italian poet; I only compare him to American poets because I don't read Italian, and Ziggurat Books International has, luckily for me, published this book in English. When John Berryman and Anne Sexton were chronicling their experiences in poetry, they starred in them as persona, as confessional as possible, swimming against a tide that favored impersonal far Eastern imagism learned from haiku. In an earlier generation, American poets had welcomed the brevity and apolitical nature of Haiku, which traditionally and strictly speaking speaks for Nature more than the observer.
So let us forgive Sylvia Plath and the other confessionalists for following Lenny Bruce into shock factor tactics, even though that road led to obsessions with psychological deviance a la Joyce Carol Oates and later to the political diatribes popularly called "poetry slams." For, after all, the confessional poets were not narcissistic for its own sake--they embodied the pendulum of literary expectation swinging away from poetry that was too impersonal for an age of escalating war and war protest, swinging back to the human condition as the more relevant subject matter for poetry. The increased availability of visual media, movies and television, further fueled the popular obsession with human character and celebrity, as films followed the linear narrative and featured the same stars year after year.
How does this relate to Gabrielli? He is so free of the cliches of confessionalism that he can write:
I know I am here now
I know where I am and why
it is infinitely light
leaf in autumn breezes
it is not time yet it exists
it is a condensed form of something
unseen and unheard
o gentle precipice
I strived to achieve when effort was the best way to fail
I walked for days
when I needed just to stand still and wait
all I needed do was open my mouth
This poem explicates the title The Parallel Body--poetry that is not about the poet, not even about the poet's artfully constructed voice, but poetry that lives parallel to the poet, truer to the mystery of all life more than to just that part of it he can see from some emotional focus. The voice of these poems has set himself free from the limitations of the physical body, the expectations of the literate, free to speak clearly after ego has been set aside. Such a book will be of interest to writers and readers long after the poet has passed on.
Poem number 8 also explains why Gabrielli's brother's drawings succeed in adding profound dimension to this volume. SImilarly freed from the expectations one brings to graphic arts, free of cliches learned in art appreciation classes, for example, these drawings by Piers Faccini, human figures drawn with pen and smudges on lined paper, concur with the clarity and universality Gabrielli has achieved in the poems. Like the poems, Faccini's nudes reveal subtle reflections on the human condition without judgment, melodrama, or banality.
A full appreciation of the dimension leant to them by the lined paper belongs to another full-length review.
The first time I read Gabrielli's poetry, when I saw how much it celebrated the freedom from convention, I felt the same kind of elation that a pollen allergy sufferer feels when the first killing frost falls. If there are personalities drawn in his poems, they belong to his characters, to people we are invited to know without having to judge or agree with them. He draws them so that we know more about them than the observer--in refreshing contrast to so much of literature that has to do with making the observer known--as refreshing as Rumi, after Rumi reaches the place where all pronouns are unsentimentally transcended.
It may seem beyond the possibilities of language to take this kind of freedom from self-obsession into any intimate love relationship, yet Gabrielli does so. He illustrates alternatives to every cliche the topic of intimacy conjures among people glutted with sexually explicit love stories shown on the large screen. Will the poet remain unscathed by the tyranny of emotion while ever more deeply immersed in that fountain beside and within?
We arrive happily to poem #32, for Tomas Segovia:
..."do you remember our philosophy
how not to confuse time with love not to confound
people with opinions nor fidelity with prison, how to
abolish yourself as you become me just as I leave you
to be you do you remember now that you are the last
in a long succession of you's [sic] stretching between the
seas of Salento and the rains of London town between
where you have never been and where you will never
go between new definitions of our lives instinct scripts
incessantly for us to undo any notion of time or hope or love"
...and then on to #34:
"I have no more ideas
no solutions no maps no texts no concepts
I just walk out alone with the wind in my face with
the sea's stinging spittle and the salt
on my tongue
It is not until the book's final poem when we see a tiny glimpse of the emotional mountains that lay behind this masterpiece of freedom. And I will not ruin it for you by citing it here. Let me just say a poet from the 60s would have begun there, made a persona of it. How does one escape the tyranny of one's own emotional burdens, except by suicide? The fundamentalists will suggest a figurative death to self, to start over as a new being, with a past wiped clean by the same forgiveness that makes a new start possible. And then we have Gabrielli, who simply though perhaps not easily decides not to burden the speaker in his poems with his personal demons to begin with. His book's inner life does not have to be autobiography, exorcism, or psychological hegira; it can be "a parallel body."
There is one more thing that must be said about this remarkable book. The last poem can be read as addressed not just to the lovers we have seen in previous poems, but to the reader, to whom Gabrielli says in closing:
..."I lap moments from time
as they alight upon your skin
rocks do not see
but they feel
delicate and strong
I am blind rock
as I nestle in your palm
in the sun
I am no less water
no less rock
than you are you
I will continuously thank you for letting me become you"
Doesn't that invite you to re-read the love poems as allegories to the relationship between the poems and the reader? Such reading is not without reward. Gabrielli has thus added yet another dimension to the book that eschews the rhetoric of persona to run far into the landscapes of time itself. His poems have more affinity with geometry than drama. Let me cite, for example, from poem number 23:
..."this is my desert my outpost against the global invasion
I care not for morals or ideals
I care for this land parched and colourful
where the Greeks and the Turks and the Normans
stood overlooking these greenest seas
from this very same hill
we are fighting an incorrect notion of time
time must turn on itself
the eye and the mind and the lizard
magical song of the poet
whose inferiority in many domains
does not prevent him here from aspiring to majesty
to the hallucinatory joy of disappearing
into the well of time itself
tenses are anathema to beauty
silence exists white pages dance
you will hear time speak...
do not be sad if you
barely recognize me here
as the one who kisses and speaks
I am many
if you doubt
you will needlessly chase a spectre
across these barren pasturelands for Ionian ghosts
a long black snake
from olive tree to olive tree
the path of instinct's jailor"
Gabrielli's works have reason to aspire. The last eleven lines of the cited poem above comprise an allegory for the act of reading poetry, an allegory as fine as any Shakespeare ever wrote, who was master of articulating the macrocosm in the microcosm. What other book has observed me so accurately while I was reading it, held open in my eager hands?
I highly recommend this book to anyone who studies world literature or American literature. In The Parallel Body, Gabrielli has achieved freedom from emotional tyranny in an art form plagued for half a century by obsession with persona, with politics, or both. He has done so without becoming didactic or predictable. Who since Shakespeare has left me with suspicion that the surface reading of these poems is not all there is to be found in them? Such are the pleasures of geometrical figures, parallels that repeat symmetrically, or fractals, and gnomons (figures that repeat themselves exponentially).
Can the book be appreciated without this level of unpacking it? Yes! But for the people who contemplate the means by which poetry achieves its effects, usually students in writing techniques classes, The Parallel Body by Dom Gabrielli can serve as a handbook on how to make it past autobiography into relevance that endures the tests of time. I think it should be required reading in all college-level literature and writing classes.
--Marilyn Kay Basel, Proems Plus, and Tjgrszmk Publishing 3-23-2012