- Time, Lost and Found
Dos Madres Press
135Pages; Print, $19.00
Paul Pines’s new collection of poetry, Message from the Memoirist, provides an energetic illumination of the power of line breaks. If written in prose, the words of many of the poems create little philosophical musings tinged with surrealistic whimsy and occasional grammatical shifts within the sentence. But when set by Pines in a series of couplets or three-line stanzas consisting of short lines, none of which exceed five syllables, the words gain mystery and meaning, and the inherent rhythms in the phrases reveal themselves.
Take “Andrew Wyeth Enters Heaven, I.” Here are the words of the poem without line or stanza breaks:
Darkness opens into a light through which I’m drawn back into a darkness that reveals me a stranger to myself anchored and adrift on folded wings an angel bound by the desire to summon what is beyond recall.
In prose we experience a run-on sentence that’s a straightforward description of the narrator’s transport through light from darkness to a second one where he sees himself depicted as an angel. There is one shift in perspective, from the vision of the narrator to what she-he imagines he-she thinks as an angel. Chopping the sentence into short lines, as Pines does, slows down our experience of the words, allowing us to see more shifts, each one revealing a small and incremental epiphany of desire for lost time. The flat prose suddenly acquires a graceful, slow-building rhythm; lines we’ve heard before such as “an angel bound” and “beyond recall” are renewed afresh:
Darkness opensinto a light
through whichI’m drawn
back intoa darkness
that reveals mea stranger
and adrifton folded wings
an angel boundby the desireto summonwhat isbeyondrecall.
Pablo Neruda, of course, was the master of creating meaning through the use of short lines, as exemplified by his three books of odes published in the 1950’s. But whereas Neruda uses the short line breaks to expose the sensuality in things, for the most part Pines’s line structure coaxes the intellectual elements from the words. Compare, for example, Neruda’s “Ode to the Book (II),” translation by Stephen Mitchell, which extracts sensuality from a paean to an intellectual object, with Pine’s musings about a woman in the “Sorjuana” section of “Mardi-Gras Masks”:
Neruda:Librohermoso,libro,minimo bosque,hojatras hoja,huele [End Page 26] tu papela element,eresmatutino y nocturno(Book,beautifulbook,minuscule forest,leafafter leaf,your papersmellsof the elements…)
Pines:If she doesn’tvalueor accept
herselfin her entirety
how canshe beat home
in the world….
Both Neruda and Pines use line and stanza structure to force the reader to reconsider the words from a fresh perspective in a kind of alienation (Verfremdungseffekt), but despite employing the same set of rhetorical devices, the poets point the reader in opposite directions, Neruda to the senses, Pines to the intellect.
By no means does the short-line, short stanza aesthetic apply to all of the poems in Message from the Memoirist. Pines has some prose poems and occasionally uses longer lines, but, for the most part, he relies on lines of five or fewer syllables throughout the book.
Many of the poems explore the passage of time, or the relationship of the past to the present, including a number of toasts or occasional poems written for marriages or birthdays, especially of elderly people. I have never seen a collection of poems with so many dedications, which always convey a tinge of nostalgia. In “Interview with the Old Poet: Ferlinghetti at 91,” dedicated to Wayne A., Pine investigates cosmic time:
A star is bornagain and again and again until it becomes a Black Hole
andno light can escapeits density this enormous collapse of time and all it contains…
Analyzing the relationship of self to the passage of time seems to be the overriding concern of Pines in Message...