It’s clear in this collection titled Time, The Magician, that poet Jerome TR Rothenberg has a sincere, urgent desire to explore the philosophical, spiritual, emotional and cerebral mysteries that torment us all. He has an aching need to reflect on these issues in a vivid, purposeful way.
Yet his poetry tends to present a quandary: there is a beauty and precision to it, like tracing the symmetrical staircases in an Escher drawing, but the content is rarely elucidating or demonstrative. As we dig into his intricate, ambitious verse, we start to feel as though we’ve fallen down the rabbit hole.
In “Winter Madness,” for example, Rothenberg writes: “Precision is less than perfection here / If I cannot smudge your eyes / Into my hot tears. / My tears started as ice…” Inference begins to suggest meaning here, but not nearly enough. Too often we feel frustrated by near-misses, glib wordplay or cursory expeditions that dance around the core topic, without ever quite confiding in us.
Rothenberg shows a determination to pervasively examine a situation in a fresh and intriguing way that frequently seems missing from other poets. It’s not a crime to be thorough, or playful, or expansive, but, despite his aim to write comprehensively, these poems can feel puzzling and nebulous.
Time, The Magician is not without intelligence, insight and charm. Rothenberg’s poetry reminds one of Alan Dugan and Elizabeth Bishop in its sensibility and groping to express the tumultuous connection between dilemma and epiphany. He might well benefit from their technique of wedding a poem to a central, extended metaphor ( “Love Song : I and Thou” or “The Fish” ) as a means to grounding the piece. So many of his poems show promise. With a better sense of what engages the reader, he’s likely to succeed with panache.
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