BURT KIMMELMAN Reviews
Divine Madness by Paul Pines
(Marsh Hawk Press, New York, 2012)
The philosopher Hans Blumenberg’s idea of “absolute metaphor,” the psychologist Carl Jung’s idea of archetypal symbols in a “collective unconscious,” and the literary anthropologist Joseph Campbell’s idea of the “monomyth,” may or may not have much particularly to do with the poet Paul Pines’s journey into the self in Divine Madness, his newest collection of poems (from Marsh Hawk Press, beautifully designed by Claudia Carlson). That is, in the poems in this book, Pines—who, among his roles in life, is a psychoanalyst—takes us toward a reality that only art finally can bring us to touch. Divine Madness stands as a testament to the welcoming of the dream experience into the holism of human experience—rather than the dreamscape’s sequestration in so much of intellectual endeavor, some of it in poetry. Whether or not this latest volume of his is a culmination of his art or thinking (consider My Brother’s Madness, for example, his marvelously compelling prose memoir of some years ago, to say nothing of some of his earlier volumes of verse, or any intellectual contribution of his own to the discourse on the human psyche and ultimately the human condition), Divine Madness partakes of an ongoing, extended meditation on the unconscious and the hope for its integration into one’s daily awareness of self and world. And, as this book makes quite clear, the hope for escaping alienation resides in the access to experience unencumbered by common sense or logic or other means of control—to be sure (I would add, prompted by my reading of this wonderful volume), the escape from alienation aided and abetted by artistic creation.
My own theory of the genesis of art, which is corroborated and deepened by Pines in these poems, is that it springs not from a realization of mortality but rather from the depth and vividness and the unrelenting insistence of the dream, which perhaps by definition must be incongruous with the world we conform to in our waking lives. Indeed, regardless of whether or not Pines—in this book or in other of his writings, or in his professional practice as an analyst, or in his life as that person we call Paul Pines—would agree with my theory, and however much we perceive the limitations of the waking world, arguably its unreality, one in which our dreams are terribly and fascinatingly out of place, this extraordinary volume of poetry demands that we attend to reality or a deeper reality whence emerges happiness, a reality finally only accessible through art (especially, perhaps, despite the burden of language, through poetry).
I would offer two exemplary samples from Pines’s book, selected almost at random:
The moving finger writes
in steaming eons
on a child’s forehead
form in the recesses
enters and departs
on a river
that flows both ways [.]
(The Serpent in the Bird Part 5, p. 9)
We never know what to do
with one who appears from nowhere
to change our hearts
but send him into exile
on a raft of snakes
or into the night sky
constellate a light
to guide us
in which we meet
in search of ourselves[.]
(Who Knows the Knower Part 44, p. 60)
That this poetry disturbs, even as it purports to explain (because it purports to explain?), must go without saying. That this poetry delights is also a fact of life. Yet to my mind Divine Madness is no Tibetan Book of the Dead. Rather, this is the testament of a poet, and so its words soar well beyond any intellectual construct the “unbeautiful banker,” as George Oppen put it, might insist upon. The poems in this book are vital.
I wonder if any of Pines’s many books before now has granted such sure access to the fount of lyrical truth that resides within this new book. Its beauty and—that which is integral in this beauty, its insight—is something that stays with you after putting the book down, and I wonder if it ever does let go.
Burt Kimmelman has published seven collections of poems, the most recent being The Way We Live (Dos Madres Press, 2011), as well as four books of literary criticism (with a fifth forthcoming) and more than eighty articles on medieval, modern, and contemporary poetry. Recent interviews of Kimmelman are available on the internet: with Tom Fink in Jacket2 (text), and with George Spencer at Poetry Thin Air (video). More on Kimmelman can be found, recently, at “Burt Kimmelman: A Survey” (critical commentary and poetry samples selected by Karl Young, a part of his Light & Dust Poetry Anthology), and at Kimmelman’s website BurtKimmelman.com. He teaches at New Jersey Institute of Technology.