Emma Lee reviews ‘Rocky Landscape with Vagrants’ by Gary Glauber

‘Rocky Landscape with Vagrants’ by Gary Glauber
Published by Cyberwit
ISBN: 978-81-8253-673-9, $15

The title aptly suggests this is a collection with a focus on drifters dealing with the rocks life has thrown at them. It does so with compassion and acute observation of life’s ironies and lessons learnt. ‘Rocky Landscape with Vagrants’ is split into four sections, the first ‘It was another trick of the wind’ opens appropriately with ‘Grand Opening’, a prose poem,

‘The great exhibition hall was opening in a week. The owners already knew it was destined to bleed money, a natural side effect of lying to the public and charging them for the dishonesty. I was hired as a consultant, a stopgap measure with ill-defined duties, never allowed to interact directly with the power brokers.’

Why the owners are content for this white elephant to lose money is not clear, but the motivation is clearly political, the hall about image and social currency rather than an amenity for the local population. The consultant has obviously been set up as scapegoat. It’s followed by an abecedary “Back to the Garden, Fifty Years On”, where the garden seems to be an outdoor venue for concerns, with its

‘nests of tender affection, singing and swaying as one in
orchestrated fashion, returning to the bare essentials that
people required: companionship, compassion and a chorus that
questions authority, believing that there were leaders to forge a
renaissance of different, before assassins’ bullets hit hard,
striking at the hearts of doves who preached love, not war,’

A sense of community fostered by a common interest until disillusionment seeps in.

The second section ‘We’re a traveling entertainment’ switches focus from social groupings and structures to one to one interactions. From the section’s title poem, where an audience member is drawn to an affair with a show girl interrupted by another member of the troupe,

‘grabbed what clothes I could
and shot myself out the door.
With neon memories setting
brain aflame like briquettes,
I got dressed in sad shadows
of an abandoned warehouse
to preserve the pity I might need
to someday forgive myself
for this ongoing sin
of eternal desperation.’

Away from the neon-lit glamour and temptation, the speaker realises he’s allow the bright lights to seduce him into ignoring the shadows, the temporary nature of such a relationship, which he’s been forced to confront after fleeing. Although ‘preserve the pity’ suggests the brief excitement and lack of commitment required from his brief affairs is more seductive than the work needs to sustain a long-term relationship so he’s doomed to make the same mistake again. The easy life also seduces a ‘prince of process’ in ‘Workshopper’ who drafts and redrafts,

‘‘til technique negates meaning,
and he begins to believe
artifice as experience,
this stale sheen as natural.’

The surface polish of the poem enables its writer to overlook that it doesn’t say anything, it’s lost its raw urgency that drove the poet to write the first draft. This friction between creating and editing is revisited in the next section ‘A heightened mimicry’ and the poem ‘The Critic in the Corner’

‘Besides, poking holes in a classic was not
my idea of a fun Saturday night.
Another sip and I drifted
toward a softer memory,
a domestic setting of no importance
to anyone but me, a pivotal time
when actions muffled dialogue’

Sometimes the critic needs a night off so creatives can enjoy an imperfect classic without focusing on the flaws. The critic has forgotten that not everyone reads a poem with the aim of improving it. Sometimes an imperfect poem strikes a chord within the reader who is happy to overlook the blemishes.

The final section ‘We watch in wistful hope’ looks outwards. In ‘Through My Neighbor’s Window’, a flickering candle triggers a memory of Icarus,

‘but gravity proves
the ultimate downer:
direction, a force,
an infinite recourse
beyond one’s short journey.

Wisps of smoke climb,
then dissipate.’

The soft vowel sounds give it the tone of a prayer, an acceptance of the inevitable. Everyone has an end and, ultimately, we have little control over when it might happen. Therefore, control might be reassuring but it is also illusory. Best enjoy those moments of happiness and embrace imperfection while they last.

‘Rocky Landscape with Vagrants’ is a celebration of life’s fleeting moments, an instruction to let go of trying to shape the landscape but adapt to and accept what’s there. Mostly the poems are free verse and discursive in tone as if Gary Glauber is passing on learnt wisdom as a friend rather than teacher.