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Book Review: The Cloud Corporation by Timothy Donnelly

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Poetry is strange stuff. I mean think about it. Publishers don’t want to publish the stuff because there’s very little profit margin, which is a polite way of saying the stuff doesn’t sell. When was the last time you saw a poetry book on the New York Times bestseller list? So-called boutique publishers and university presses are about the only ones that will touch the stuff. And they publish it because it gives them “literary credibility,” which is a nice way of saying that poetry has a certain snob appeal.

That being said, you’d think poets would simply stop writing the stuff. Because no one’s going to publish it, right? But they don’t. They keep pumping the stuff out at an alarming rate. And what’s even more astonishing is the fact that oodles and oodles of people write poetry. Every time I go on Facebook, somebody’s announcing the release of their latest volume of poetry. And the sheer number of ‘poetry slams’ I get invited to is mind-boggling.

It probably sounds as if I don’t care for poetry. You see that’s my problem. I actually enjoy the stuff. Of course, I admit that much of the poetry I read goes – Zing! – right by me. I have no clue what the poet is talking about or trying to convey or intimate or suggest or allegorize. Every once in a while, though, I’ll pick up something that thumps me on the chest, makes me blink and think and/or gives me what I call “an aquamarine moment.”

Which brings me to Timothy Donnelly, who, as you may have already guessed, is a poet. His latest volume of poetry is called The Cloud Corporation, which, although I don’t know what the title means, is catchy nonetheless. And I’m a sucker for catchy titles.

The Cloud Corporation is good stuff. At the risk of coming across as a buffoon, I have to admit most of the ‘deep, meaningful stuff’ escapes me. You know, the allegories and the metaphors and the similes and “the linguistic surfaces” and the “dark wordplay” and the rhythmic syntax and lots of the imagery. Yet even though all that eludes me, something is getting through, because I really, really like Donnelly’s poetry. It plucks a string somewhere in my soul and speaks to me on some subconscious level.

There’s a strong comedic current stirring under the noir surface of Donnelly’s verse. For example, in ‘Montezuma To His Magicians,’ Donnelly has Montezuma asking his court magicians why the Spanish Conquistadors “leap upon the gold as dazzled monkeys,” “if they are gods.” And in ‘Dream of Arabian Hillbillies,’ whose very title is laugh-out-loud funny, Donnelly displays his impish sense of humor in the very first line:
          “Salutations from the all-encompassing
           arms of a hammered millionaire!”
And then in the second stanza, the same narrator says,
          “May you journey in the security
          of a huge American truck. May your enemies come

          to wither in front of this truck.”

Like I said, it’s comical.

Of course, Donnelly gets into the abstract and high-cultured stuff too. In ‘In His Tree,’ Donnelly dives deep into the esoteric waters of linguistic transcendence. Too deep for me to follow along. Nevertheless, it’s fun to read, because the words have a rhythm of their own as the roll off my tongue. And the mere act of reading creates an image in the visual region of my brain.
          “The TV might be getting warm, but police hounds
          can’t track it down because it smells like everything.
          To surrender to it means you taste its invincibility
          deliquescing in your dune-dry mouth, its properties …

I console myself by telling myself that perhaps that’s all the poet was trying to do here – provide me with an unfamiliar impression, which I can translate any way I want to.

My favorite is ‘The New Hymns,’ which I take to be a commentary on the praise hymns modern church-goers sing off the wall. You know, those happy, peppy, bullfroggy hymns, where the lyrics are projected onto giant wall-screens, and the congregation sings them over and over and over, ad infinitum, ad nauseam. Donnelly sums the whole experience up in the last line of the poem, when he says,
          “there is a deity whose only purpose is to stop this.”

Now that’s what I call poetic justice.

Timothy Donnelly’s The Cloud Corporation is a spiffy volume of delightful poems. If you enjoy poetry, you’ll want to own a copy.

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