Thursday, March 31, 2011

DAYS POEM by ALLEN BRAMHALL

NICHOLAS T. SPATAFORA Reviews

DAYS POEM, Volume I and Volume II by Allen Bramhall
(Meritage Press, St. Helena and San Francisco, 2007)

Allen Bramhall’s Days Poem: A Critical Analysis of a Dying Art
“There is no such thing as conversation. It is an illusion. There are intersecting monologues. That is all.”
--Rebecca West

Allen Bramhall’s Days Poem addresses everything under the sun, with a blend of wit and cynicism, reminiscent of the disenchanted preacher in the Book of Ecclesiastes and correspondingly enlightening. The phraseology within its verses is clever and succinct yet complete and rich in profundity.

“Torture”—the speaker’s consummate designation for dialog, encompassing several besetting metaphorical labels for mundane, trivial, belligerent, self-righteous and “me”-dominated mutually-exclusive verbal exchange—is repeated throughout this extended work of poetic prose. Bramhall makes frequent reference to the “bear,” symbolic of the strong and silent insolent, the “chicken,” synonymous with the perpetual loquacious, the “bird,” typifying the silent but ostentatious proud, “Tarzan,” “hobos” and the “train,” figurative of the uncouth, and the “ truck,” depictive of the oppressive. His tone bears no protective persona, blatantly advising the reader to “end the conversation before it starts” (47. 8. 1). Discerning the verses, the reader may thus come to appreciate the true nature and agenda of conversation or perhaps be rendered humble by means of exposure to the pervading lines suggestive that his inflated sense of self-importance and virility is ironically lain claim by ceaseless numbers of egos exterior to his individual rampart of uniqueness and significance.

It is apropos that the writer personifies diatribe as being “tyrann[ical]” since verbally abusive taskmasters may randomly direct such oral floggings in the forms of vociferous denunciation and threats at their vulnerable and defenseless underlings as a method of control and dominance (1. 3. 2). “[T]hey talk and react… / in quack” (28. 18. 1-2). Their “tornado” “skirts” the issue, its ravaging winds desperately endeavoring to devastate the hapless and disadvantaged scapegoat in its stead (345. 3. 8). The author wittingly refers to the bully as a truck, intimidating the smaller vehicles (43. 12. 1-3). Belligerent talk, however, is but a passing storm, and the staunch and enduring bear ultimately perseveres (28. 18. 2). Ironically, the verses ambiguously perceive the bear to be an admirable figure, respected for his “momentum” (39. 7. 1) and defiance of authority yet self-righteous in his own right, not practicing what he preaches (37. 2. 3). He is the noisy wheel, the whiner, “hungry” (69. 6. 3) and a presence to be reckoned with (64. 6. 1-2). Thus, the belligerent ought to beware of the bear that has had “enough” (351. 2. 1).

The reluctance to engage or assert one’s self directly in converse is an all-too-familiar syndrome, inciting insecurities and fears of vocal retribution by the receiver, and escaping into a world of solitude and isolation via the age of communication technology merely perpetuates this vicious cycle. Bramhall’s “Lewis and Clark” expedition parables such vagueness and indirectness, whereby the intimidated individual circumnavigates his statement or contention to his receiver yet ultimately “return[s] to the exact / word[s] [h]e meant to say” (1. 5. 3-5). The listener’s patience begins to wear thin: “[S]ay what you mean,” he abruptly replies (90. 7. 1). For the inhibited, “expression is half the battle” (129. 6. 1). What is assertiveness but a vocal expression of one’s inner turbulence; thus, effecting change in his recipient plays secondary in intent or objective. One’s agida is effectively mitigated through communication.

Inhibition and insecurity are further amplified in an atmosphere of competitive dialog. Who has not been exempt from “occupational challenge,” anxious to measure up to her peers who boast of vocational success (108. 8. 1)?

“[D]ialogue resumes as emphatic tornado” (1. 1. 1). Be it the voice of the proud, the insecure or the unenlightened, Bramhall subsequently refers to it as “ideologue,” coining metaphors to depict the bullish, indignant and often ignorant assertions of the provincial and self-righteous, which her audience may naively perceive to be confidence (1. 1. 3).

“[B]eware of dogmatic lightning,” hence, the absurdity and futility of open-minded, mutually enlightening political, theological or philosophical discourse with a one-sided “train” (35. 18. 3), personified as the narrow-minded, which can only conclude in altercation (26. 15. 3). Buy the truth and sell it not (Pr. 23.23). Educated and profound words are often in fact wasted on the “hobos,” “lost to ex- / planation” (59. 7. 1-2). Advice may arrive with “fresh towels” (72. 13. 1), but wisdom advises against placing pearls before swine. Thus, the wise are cautioned against conversations of substance with the provincial. But then, even Tarzan, with his “unkempt vocabulary” (247. 5. 1), is entitled to his convictions (100. 2. 1). Ironically, these self-ordained ideals are ephemeral to the ego, which defends them tenaciously until they are eventually replaced—“a page is turned, vacating the old plan” (34. 23. 1).

Broadcasting such emphatic “importan[ce]” on personal doctrine naturally invites a forum for debate, subjecting one to vulnerability (30. 2. 1). “Religious affronts occur” (54. 12. 3-4). “[D]iscussion / grows violent” (114. 9. 1-2). Acknowledging one’s fallibility, on the other hand, can prove to be a quite humbling and liberating experience.

Self-righteous dogma by the ordinary individual can in fact be disregarded. It is quite another story, however, when words are manipulated to conventionally define what those in authority find convenient and of benefit to themselves, and quite often appeasement is advisable, given these disadvantageous circumstances (50. 9. 2,4).

And then there are the malcontents, oblivious to the balance of assets and shortcomings of the circumstance at hand and ultimately destined to perpetually distinguish between a pot of gold and a mound of earth. They are “the appalled, [the] gregarious,” continually disputing and expressing discord (105. 1. 1). The flags of discontent are, however, necessary to offset tyrannical elements: “[S]omeone has to add” (105. 1. 3).

“[P]eople discuss their nature with elegant detail”; that is, one tends to glorify him- or herself with exaggerated, even nonexistent attributes and accolades (1. 7. 1). They “talk of their ‘colours,’ and of mountains they climbed just yesterday” (15. 7. 1). Carl Sandburg referred to this hyperbolized self-importance as a form of lying. The East terms it ego, and the West calls it self-esteem. Are our audiences a medium for sincere communication or merely recipients of one’s pretension, with the ultimate expectation of a word of recognition or “approv[al]” (1. 7. 2)? It is the speaker, paradoxically, who is ultimately impressed with himself—“little will be noticed” (18. 1. 3). Impressive news is ephemeral.

Such communication and self-gratification are virtually nonexistent, however, when two or more cackling “chickens” vie for attention from one another, each attempting to outdo the flock, further intensifying their notions of narcissism (1. 8. 3-4). “[W]e talk a lot, don’t we?” (1. 26. 5). “[T]here are so many who wish to / speak, but it’s a careless job best left to those with airy claims to make” (9. 6. 2-3). Individuals desire to be heard; however, waiting for that “opening in the conversation” can seem eternal with that speaker who is never quite at a loss for words (17. 6. 1). We all “have a word to say” and often wait anxiously for our “chance” to speak in this stichomythic game of musical chairs (66. 4. 1, 64. 2. 1).

Stories change and facts are “modified” (4. 16. 2-3); thus, “people will structure their words with newer ideas” to accommodate subsequent exaggerations and other falsities (1. 17. 2). “[W]hen things are explained, the package runs from one dealer to the next” (202. 2. 1). This is ironically their Achilles heel, their inconsistency ultimately being discerned through repeated exposure: “[W]hat say you [when] the musket shots pepper your ideology?” (76. 13. 3). When your pretentious and exaggerated claims and assertions are challenged? And what of their lasting impression (77. 7. 1)? Such braggarts edit their dialog, revealing only that which will elicit envy or respect (4. 16. 1-2). The covetous “I wish I had your arrangements” is the projected and likely reply (218. 2. 1). They “have their say, / and make something special,” but “don’t mention debt” (13. 3. 1-2).

The bird, the marvel of the animal kingdom, lays equitable claim for attention as does the braggart. Her method, however, unlike the latter, is nonverbal, precluding blatancy, procuring center stage, nonetheless, “sing[ing],…blow[ing] the whistle, or…simply [her] own horn” (237. 3. 1). She is a “balloon,” proverbially composed of torrid gaseous matter (237. 7. 1-2). Be not gulled, however, by her gracefulness, for she, too, possesses her dark side, which eventually is manifested verbally (238. 7. 1-4).

Is counsel truly altruistic, or is it ulterior in motive, further nourishing one’s ego with additional manifestation of self-importance and self-aggrandizement? Do we rejoice in our beneficence or delight in selfish fulfillment (1. 24. 1-2)? “[I]deas come and go” (91. 3. 1).

Advice, however, which the “counselor” deludes is a creative and original breath of wisdom, is merely a reinvention of a wheel long since patented (4. 14. 4-5). “[W]e talk into holes, thinking / we fill” (4. 23. 1-2). Indeed, delusions of grandeur continually infiltrate the egos of the narcissistic who fail to realize that their “answers” are in fact age-old: Is there a thing of which it is said, “See, this is new”? (Holy Bible, Ec. 1.10). The same can be said of theories, [which] are remorseless and ongoing (284. 7. 1). “[W]eather itself is imaginary, [the] theorist indiscreetly declares” (317. 1. 38).

“[W]hat can we talk about today, that / hasn’t been mentioned before?” (166. 5. 1-2). Equally nauseating is the mundane and trivial, to wit, ceaseless and senseless idle chatter, essentially practiced to camouflage discomfort and quietude, which Western culture deems aberrant. Talk, “the world is full of talk and talk is full of words” (65. 3. 2). “[T]alking all night doesn’t make the night” (3. 5. 2). “[Y]okels” may practice such impertinent discourse, analytical discussion and debate, accomplishing nothing in the end (28. 19. 1-2). It is “cheap but so aren’t the people talking” (180. 8. 1). It simply generates further futile discussion (23. 21. 2). Philosophical principles, for one, are often debated and compared rather than discerned, appreciated and practiced.

“I love you”—a hackneyed, superficial expression, at best, and a deceptive lure by an unscrupulous “lover,” at its most destructive. The poet likens such shallow words to “houses that fall down when empty” (61. 6. 2). This often insincere declaration is equated with “a phrase painted on our foreheads,” when such an influential statement should be handled with delicacy (52. 4. 2). The na├»ve especially are vulnerable to the artificial “candidate” who “say[s] the same thing,” furnishing the gullible with agreement, assurances and other falsehoods (113. 2. 2-3).

Then there are the attention seekers, spewing words of fatigue, and perhaps illness, to those who will nourish such neediness through silent reception. The receiver need not respond, except for perhaps nonverbal gestures and countenances of sympathy, and any words of response may paradoxically be unwelcome (39. 4. 3-4).

Words are powerful (Dickinson). “[A]re you comfortable when you lay down?” (112. 4. 2). Perhaps you publicly uttered foolhardily, prematurely or unfavorably. Apprehension sets in.

Whether it is the diatribe of the belligerent, the egotism of the self-righteous, the reasoning of the unreasonable, the superficiality of the shallow, the demands of the pathetic, anger-induced self-recriminatory statements or the hyperbole of the artificial, one is inevitably exposed to dialogue, to torture. “[U]ntroubled airplanes are / above somewhere”; thus, ending conversation before it starts is ideal (203. 1. 2-3). To “give delight” and “take it” is unfeasible, however Utopian (284. 6. 1). Forewarned is forearmed, and discernment of the profundity in Allen Bramhall’s Days Poem will shield one against the impending barrage of verbal onslaughts and absurdity.

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Works Cited

Bramhall, Allen. Days Poem: Volume 1: St. Helena: Meritage Press, 2007. Print.

---. Days Poem: Volume 2: St. Helena: Meritage Press, 2007. Print.

Holy Bible. Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 1982. Print.

*****

Nicholas T. Spatafora is an educator at Joseph Pulitzer Intermediate School in Jackson Heights, Queens and an English Professor at the City University of New York. He holds two graduate degrees from Hunter College in New York City and has enjoyed a successful career in education spanning twenty five years. Contemplating a life in Catholic ministry, he attended Cathedral Preparatory Seminary in New York. He is a member of the Tao Society in Tai Pei, and prior affiliations include the Religious Society of Friends and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn. Spatafora is the author of Hurt, the feature article “Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha: A Fictional Account of the Life of Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha,” “A Review of Jack Lynch’s Manhattan Man and Other Poems,” “Challenging Perspectives: A Review of Thomas Fink’s & Maya Diablo Mason’s AutopsyTurvy” and “Kingdom by the Harbor,” featured in Eileen Tabios’s Galatea Resurrects. Spatafora and his wife Hsiaochen (Judy) reside in Flushing, New York.

1 comment:

EILEEN said...

Other views are offered by Anny Ballardini in GR #9 at

http://galatearesurrection9.blogspot.com/2008/03/days-poem-vols-i-and-ii-by-allen.html


and Jeff Harrison in GR #8 at

http://galatearesurrection8.blogspot.com/2007/11/days-poem-volumes-i-and-ii-by-allen.html