Mar 22, 2009

My Piece of the Puzzle by Doren Robbins

The voice in Doren Robbins is one I wish I could employ in my own work. Too bad it’s distinctly Robbins’ own.

The poems in My Piece of the Puzzle challenge the reader to slow down, if in no other way than via long lines and heavily-punctuated sentences. These rooms are not always comfortable to stand in, but the doors to leave are heavy. Robbins’ content isn’t centered in one identity or another. He writes about his lives as a cook aboard ships and a traveler sending his brother postcards from Greece. There is plenty of concrete imagery, strong senses of place, and unique characters, but somehow, the reader may still feel ungrounded. Perhaps this is because Robbins makes demands of his readers because he seems to want desperately for them to understand the world he inhabits, even as he tries to understand it himself:

Then asked in a casual tone,

“You’re a Christian, aren’t you?”

That was during the time when all types
of people starting wearing baseball caps.
But I don’t think so many of them were

identifying with a team or
advertising some product or
even trying to keep the cancer sun

off their heads and faces – I think most
everybody in baseball caps was trying
to stay a little hidden or just trying

to keep the tops of their heads on, so to speak.(from “My Hat Up North”)

There is a genuineness, then, to these poems: readers aren’t being preached to by a know-it-all, but their tour guide isn’t untrained, either. Robbins refuses to shy away from his subjects, but doesn’t offer up his insights easily. Often these insights come several lines after the first mention of a problem or incident. This somewhat brooding style approaches subjects which suit Robbins’ political nature. By not shooting out of the gate and proclaiming political affiliations, the poems can simply present information:

Not a word: Iraqi civilian depleted uranium info bone smoked image dead.
No photojournalism clothes shredded burned into the skin, making one
skin, one melted mixed form image, one pile of mouths burned shut
I locked up looking at in my mind
after hearing a student now a vet tell it
through clenched teeth and weeping spit… (from “Predators’ Hour 2, Open All Night”)

Robbins is living up to William Carlos Williams’ prophecy that people would someday look to poems for the news. We as readers and lovers of narrative poetry should look to Doren Robbins’ work for the latest headlines. Robbins’ delivery is deliberately slow, coercing the reader into thinking about the world through a lens he makes us comfortable using. There is a push towards a more harmonious world, and while Robbins himself may not have found it, he is encouraging its discovery.

You can buy My Piece of the Puzzle here:

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