"Take this Song: Poems in Pursuit of Meaning"
By Lee Bramble
Small Pond Press
Besides reading other contemporary poets, poetry writing teachers advise their students to discover how they see themselves fitting in the canon. Who are their masters? Poet Lee Bramble (aka Tom Ragle) has definitely chosen where he fits in the canon. The models that inform his poetry are, first and foremost, the English Romantics, with Wordsworth being perhaps his primary master, and secondarily, as a transplant to Vermont, Bramble has certainly chosen Robert Frost as a literary uncle. This is not to say that Bramble's concern is solely about nature nor is his work imitative of either Frost or Wordsworth.
Bramble's voice is definitely his own, yet because Bramble has never read much contemporary poetry, his voice and diction have a tinge from another time, which both adds to its individuality and detracts from what he might have learned from reading more of his contemporaries. Indeed, many of them are as masterful as the old masters.
This results in an oeuvre that seems somehow slightly askew to a reader whose sensibilities and expectancies have been conditioned by reading a great deal of contemporary poetry. But let's step back a moment and pretend we are reading Bramble two centuries or more in the future. Will it matter to our sensibilities the way it does to a reader today? I think not.
Each generation of both readers and poets is blinded by the passing aesthetic notions which have for one reason or another become fashionable, and the good and great poetry over time eventually floats to the top (though they are often helped along by critics).
Bramble's poems range from powerful short lyrics to longer meditative narratives about the lives and beings of those who have touched him. Here are first lines of a short lyric about a saluki (a breed of dog bred to hunt gazelles):
You do not run like the wind, puffing without rhythm, nor like the surf upon the shore, pounding, pounding, but like moonlit ripples on the pond in the light air of spring Bramble has a very fine ear as well as a good eye for imagery. His poems flow easily when read aloud, as he hopes the reader will do. Most of the narrative meditations are written in a blank verse that keeps a conversational tone even when it is not reproducing conversation as in some of the monologues or dialogues which are found in the collection.
Although the narrative meditations flow smoothly, Bramble dilutes the power of these poems with too much minutiae that tend to slow them down and undermine their emotional impact. A fiction teacher I once knew said in a lecture that one of the problems of narrative is to get your character graceful ly across the room in as few words as possible and with as little distraction so as to get on with the true purpose of the narrative. Poems also have such a purpose, or better yet, an emotional center, which the poet discovers while writing, and which he or she then drives the poem towards, and although Bramble's poems definitely have that center, he, nonetheless, puts a few things in the way or sometimes wanders into the details of another interesting anecdote that might not be necessary.
In an age where the power of the punchline in an anecdotal (read narrative) poem and the lead into it becoming so paramount, this can seem crucial to a reader.
It is important to remember the subtitle of this collection: "Poems in Pursuit of Meaning," and the inclusion of so many narrative meditations indicates how Bramble thinks of them as more important than his short lyrics. I expect that this is because Bramble finds it easier in the longer meditations to pursue meaning more thoroughly, which he does with a graceful thoughtfulness, but the short lyrics are truly where Bramble excels.I wish he had included more of them in this collection, and although they may not pursue as "meaningful" a course of pursuit as Bramble wants for himself, many are finely cut jewels. In that sense he has done himself a great artistic injustice, for these poems are a delight and truly worth reading.
Lee Bramble will be reading from his work on Saturday, Oct. 5, at the Brattleboro Literary Festival as part the Write Action Showcase. His collection is available for purchase at Everyone's Books.
Tim Mayo is a poet and critic and a former member of the Brattleboro Literary Festival Author Committee.
For Love of Books is a column written by readers of notable books which may be found in local libraries and bookstores. "Guidelines for Reviewers" may be requested from Brooks Memorial Library at 802-254-5290 or firstname.lastname@example.org