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Michael Gottlieb / Dear All / Roof / 2013

Michael Gottlieb

The meaning is sometimes so dazzlingly apparent that our apprehension of it is instantaneous / so that it would be better to speak thus – our apprehension by it is instantaneous / or / its apprehension of us is instantaneous. Mr Gottlieb has a quick hand and a sure tongue / and a mind to match.

Small words / not much distant from other words / are used – this creates unique meaning – the words are made to specialize. Also – the meanings of the few words are then speaking to one another – this creates spaces between meanings / spaces inhabited by (yet new) meanings.

What does this / for example / make you think / of? –

that which goes wheels-up when it comes time for toes-up

or this –

as if we could ever prefer the built word over the unbuilt world

At the same time / the poems are always of direct address – and that is never lost to us / nor we to it.

Words are thrown / often enough / against their usual meanings – taken out of parlance and re-parlanced / often by combining a somewhat stock phrase with a defining word not usually associated / but seen to be easily at home with its new mates – this creates / and is a portion of / that wry humor.

The jokes (and there are a fair number of them in this book) are always rather tongue-in-cheek – the only surviving question being / whose-tongue-in-whose-cheek?

if only the after-life
was more like the after-party
there was so much more
I was prepared for you to say
I also have
a fair weather friend
in the lord

Often the humor is self-reflective / in the sense that the author is thinking himself as he reflects – and this then / reflects on us.
It’s a darkish humor – but it’s always reflected upon lightly.
Many individual phrases lend themselves to the comic / as if they themselves were the words beneath pictures which themselves are difficult of easeful apprehension – we’re made / to think.

Mortality is a not infrequent occurrence as topic here / and it is perhaps contra that that the humor raises its sly head.
Originally / comedy referred to a story that ended happily – versus the tragic. In Mr Gottlieb’s book / the comedy is itself tragic. Which says what / apropos the story? – that even the story that ends happily / ends / sadly.

The poems often tend to a laconic ending / often enough both laconic and lachrymose.

This is done / also / always / with a genuine compassion / for what is being said / and for those to / and of / whom it’s being said. Somehow / the supple bend of the phrase is all that Mr Gottlieb needs for this purpose. It seems to come upon him / as he speaks to us / of us.

If these poems are composed of phrases / fragments / lost from another time (from another’s time) – they are telling us that they are all that need remain / they are adequate / for our purposes / and we / for theirs.

There are beautiful combinations of phrasing / so deftly put that we don’t need to remember that we are in the hands of a pro –

the dun transports in a column
idling before the municipal swimming pool
a haze beneath the flyover

The organization of the book bears some noting. The poems in the second section are longer / the fragments seem to be even more fragmentary / the lacunae between them greater (more profound) / and there are more lists / and the fragments themselves then seem (also) more list like – this has the effect of making the poems go into us deeper / as we read them / because the points are smaller and just that much sharper / and because the length of the poems makes them stay at us.

The third section / one long poem entitled AND WE SHALL NEVER SPEAK OF THIS AGAIN / sets the rather elegiac tone of the book’s ending – but there is an irony here too / which harks back over the book’s humor / which is made to linger.

This latter poem builds / through an accumulation of details / which strike chords with/in each other – a kind of longing that the poem has for itself. The lines / scattered carefully down the page / seem to flicker / to light each other for odd moments / and to then flush out. In a way / these words are a kind of prescription for the world / one that it prescribes for itself – we malingerers listen / and listen in – the writing goes on / the reading goes on.

The poems have withal a kind of diligence. They are felt to be at it / at us – they stick. Amidst the fragments / in them / as them – there are reasons to be found for going on – with the reading of the book / and for going on doing the going on.

Mr Gottlieb is a reader of the fortunes of these times / the ones we live in – and he is a teller of those fortunes / like it or not.

There is / throughout / a note of warning – in whatever tone it is offered / it is there – the author is encouraging us to watch out / noting that there are rough corners here and there where we had thought not / that trust is at a premium (and maybe should be) / that it’s been like this / and that it’s not going to stop. It is apparent in phrases such as darkness is not / your friend. Even words such as decamping / even phrases such as the multi-purpose room / belying their simplicity / by their extraction from the mass of language / by their placement / harbor something of something that we might not want to know. Phrases bump into other phrases / jostling for room on the thought palette. This final poem does more than hint at the mutual grasping that goes on between the internet and the internet user – the possible symptoms / the possible side effects / of being alive in this day and age. The future will be obsessive / or it will not be at all.

By way of one example –


what stirs
drawing near
dragging its club

a hemmed and altered exhaust
trailing you
like some anathematic footer

balefully unabashed

I’m pushing all this along the funnel
it’s a nurturing story
it’s in my pipeline

since you need to ask

you too shall be restored
or maybe restocked

Mr Gottlieb takes an uneasy pleasure in living – these poems are sent to you from that place / and with his firm regards.

Originally Published: April 26th, 2013

Poet and essayist Alan Davies was born in Alberta, Canada, and earned his BA from Atlantic Union College in Massachusetts. In the mid-70s he edited the poetry journal A Hundred Posters. As a Harvard summer school student, he took classes taught by Robert Creeley and Octavio Paz, and he also...