POETIC WORKS: Volume Two
BookSurge (376 pp.)
July 15, 2009
Kirkus Discoveries, Nielsen Business Media, 770 Broadway, New York, NY 10003
Ambitious poems in various genres explore the intersections
of philosophy, religion, psychology and cutting-edge physics.
Aside from two dramatic pieces at the end of Poetic Works, the majority of the writings in this book are subsections of a vast philosophical poem entitled “Milk of Dreams.” Readers interested in the first nine sections of this poem will have to consult Volume One of Bessinger’s Poetic Works. Fortunately, the eight sections contained in Volume Two, totaling almost 300 pages, offer substantial food for thought, and are (within the limitations of their difficult subject matter) accessible on their own.
What motivates the distribution of material across the two volumes? The author’s explanation—that the works in Volume Two were written during the 21st century—is not as arbitrary as it sounds. To be sure, in certain respects, the work in this volume hearkens back to the literature of the 20th century, especially the great, fragmentary epics of European and American Modernism. Such echoes can be heard not only in formal features such as the use of polyglot free verse, but also in Bessinger’s thematic interest in joining the new to the old—especially the ancient traditions of Greece, China and the Celtic peoples. Yet this book remains fundamentally oriented toward the future, where it hopes some of the besetting divisions of modern American life—science versus wonderment, individualism versus the experience of the whole—will finally be resolved.
In a work of this scope, unevenness is inevitable. Fortunately, the book’s weaker moments, such as the excessively abstract and esoteric “Petaloudes” subsection, are not nearly as memorable as its successes, notably the intricate interweaving of sensory and intellectual material in “The Pond,” and the moving human drama of “Waiting at Epidauros.” The latter, by far the book’s longest section, is a mystery novel in verse in which philosophical issues illuminate, but do not overpower, the remarkably sensitive characterization.
Another pleasant surprise is the humor that runs through the book, including occasional outrageous puns—some of which may need to be decoded with the aid of the glossary in the back.
Eccentric poetry combines lofty intellectual abstraction with genuine human warmth.
[December 17, 2009]