Bernie Earley

Mortality Deferred : A Review of Burt Kimmelman’s As If Free

Burt Kimmelman
As If Free
Talisman House Publishers, Jersey City, New Jersey, 2009
IBSN: 10: 1–58498-069–9 paper

As If Free follows poetic traditions in form and theme, syllabic verse and mortality respectively. Burt Kimmelman’s 6th book of poems keeps regular count, usually five or six syllables per line. In spite of their apparent rigidity, the poems flex with perception and feeling, focusing on a variety of subjects—from birds in the backyard in Maplewood, New Jersey, to art and sculpture at the Musei Vaticani.

Awareness of mortality pervades. In “Taking Dinner to My Mother” the tone is tender as the poet strives to bring comfort to his mother as her health fails; in “Blackeyed Susan” the flower fades with a “glow in the light…stolen from the moon”; in “Raking the Leaves” a sense of transience is kept secret: the speaker resolves not to say what will make his daughter sad; he thinks as he rakes, “in the dark days of autumn, / I know what is possible and what is not.”

“The Coming Snow” slows the action so readers can “witness the graceful descent of / white”; metaphorical snow intimates a gentle end—the possibility of our world put to silence—but slowly. Although the “made world” we take for granted is bracketed by oblivion, it’s in “increments, / we lose the ones we love”; so, in “Susan Sontag Has Died,” death is “an / old friend we have // never met” and who drops in for coffee; the cups remain, seasons change, and old age has set in already. No wonder “Perhaps Starlight” exclaims, “I want to hold onto / what disappears, to the / empty moonlight, to the / starlight that barely glows.”

As If Free—I take it to mean that there is no escaping the end, although meanwhile we go about our business freely, as if there were no end. The “as if” turn in the last poem, “Monet’s Garden,” is significant:
The lily’s charm is not
its colors but how it
floats, as if free, upon

the pond’s dark surface.
So too the poems in general float. Syllabic verse balances the line, while the content, in terms of thought and emotion, does not sink into despair. Instead, this sequence of poems comes to terms with natural deterioration; they poise momentarily, offering buoyancy, as they are humane, compassionate lifelines for those who know a dark sea takes us under.

Bernie Earley is a full-time lecturer of poetry and writing at State University Cortland, Cortland, NY. He has published two chapbooks, Biker Poems and 13 Poems, and his poems have appeared in several little magazines including Moria, Poetry New York, House Organ, and Mickle Street Review.
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