Small Consolations, is Gary Glauber’s first collection. Divided into four sections “Occupations”, “Explorations”, “Situations” and “Infatuations”, this meaty volume appears not only dense in format on the page, but also uniformly dense in thought, image and rhythm. The titles of the sections themselves reflect the degree to which Glauber uses alliteration, assonance and rhyme to construct, with great attention to detail, poems which, whilst they will not trip easily off the tongue, provide his reader with much upon which to reflect. Lost loves and passions, fragments of childhood memories, fears, failures, pleasures, lost children and even lost societies, form the backdrop to the low-pitched song of this thoroughly American writer. There is anger, too, at the loss of society’s useful skills, those which once allowed its fabric to be repaired, rather than discarded:
We strolled by windows clouded with mystery,
never stopping to and from savory cheeseburgers
and thick ice cream shakes at Joe’s Luncheonette.
The tableful of wires and filaments, tubes and batteries,
electrical doo-dads, simple circuitry boards, and
miraculous transistors all went unspied.
This disposable economy that replaces, not repairs,
has little need for those fix-it guys and their skills.
Even society’s disdain for the kind of communication facilitated by correctly constructed sentences and grammar, the framework on which language relies, comes in for sad reflection:
Semi-colons litter the bleak landscape,
remnants from a time when punctuation
held as a stronghold against opposing forces
that exploded full sentences from their footings
and proclaimed the revolution in shrill bursts.
(“On the Last Train”)
The despair in the long lines of “The Transcription” (some of them twenty syllables) is clearly inspired by reports of torture at Guantanamo Bay. Glauber considers the writings of a prisoner,fiercely rejecting the notion that agony can elevate a man to a something like sainthood.
[…] in all these thousands of words that
darken these few pages, there is not only an absence of
epiphany and enlightenment, but an entire vacuum of ideas,
a void of reason replaced with the senseless ravings of a
Here, strong rhythms and alliteration carry the lines, along the strength of the poet’s refusal of the American way with prisoners.
Glauber’s poetry often strains at the leash and desperately wants to become prose. It does so in “Pandora’s Gift” and “Hitchhiker”. The poetic magic of the former is a rarity in this collection; a gift box is passed round by a man “who rarely ventures outside the confines of daily routines”. It contains nothing but the invisible wherewithal to relieve the burdens of women’s lives.
On the other hand, “Hitchhiker” tells of a woman haunted by guilt when she believes she has seen the grown son she gave away as a baby:
[…] it comes to me, a thought
that will haunt me for days. I know those eyes; they are mine.
As in many other potentially emotionally charged poems in this collection, the finely constructed lines somehow fail to draw the reader into the maelstrom of the female protagonist’s mind. Drama is circumnavigated in this tale of unfinished business and the reader stands aside as Glauber reaches out for an understanding of the deepest layers of the female psyche.
Elsewhere, masculine imagery intrudes somewhat uncomfortably into the female voice, as in “Same Thing”:
[…]the existential and the metaphysical
Shaking hands, then slugging it out […]
And my favourite poem in Small Consolations? “The Incredible Flying Lady”, a narrative in four-line stanzas, stands alone in theme and joyful tone. The colourful story of a boy’s infatuation with a human canon-ball allows the upper reaches of Glauber’s imagination free rein, drawing the reader into the despair of a boy’s unrequited love and the end of a girl’s career. In this generally unexciting collection, the tale of Zazel and her would-be suitor is tender, entertaining and heart-breaking.