Before Music by Philip Rowland does not give up its secrets easily and that, of course, is not necessarily a bad thing. It might even be thought of as a bit of a mystery wrapped in a conundrum, not unlike one of my favorite poems gathered in this new collection
inside an envelope
inside an envelope:
If you have never witnessed something like this, either at a funeral or a wedding, trust me, it does happen. The poem itself captures Rowland's core approach, an approach shared in spirit with the best classic haiku. Show, don't tell.
Because, if poetry is going to do what it needs to do, you, the reader, need to occasionally do some of the heavy lifting. When you start from this premise, the secrets begin to gradually evince themselves (though you might want to sleep in late the next day).
The collection is divided into 5 sections, each taking its name from a poem in that section. A sort of resounding, perhaps? You must make out for yourself what that might mean. I'm still doing some heavy lifting of my own.
One gets the sense of the poet working through some things or, perhaps, some single, overriding thing. The landscape of the work may be thought of as mental, or pre-conscious, or unconscious (I believe it has helped me immensely in reading Rowland that I was simultaneously re-reading Georg Trakl), or, as I'd prefer to think of it, as an attempt to capture with words the prelinguisitc state.
What state might that be? Well, I can tell you it ain't Jersey.
This is somewhere we all, hopefully, at one time in our lives or another, have resided. And, yes, this is modern haiku (if anyone wants to parse definitions, go ahead, I'm listening and I'm also aware) and I like it very much, resonating as it does the state which it describes.
There is much here that has to do with sound, and a lot that touches on music.
Prelude in C -
deep in the piano lid
There is a poem by Mary Oliver that resides somewhere in the neighborhood of Rowland's landscape here, a poem called "Music Lesson." Maybe it is another story altogether, but it surely comes from the same book. Speaking of which, the poem which follows Prelude:
In the hush before music
the music of who
I am not
Yes, we know this landscape, of Rowland, of Trakl, of Oliver, of other, of not-other.
There is another piece that hits a similar note:
a Bach fugue
trying to make sense of
the rainy season
The landscapes are distinctly interior, but they are most definitely exterior, too. The interiorizing of the exterior, the exterioring of the interior?
Among the final poems that conclude Before Music, this monostitch fills out the whole lost chord:
what's left of the light the music absorbs
Much the same could be said of other themes which sound throughout this 50 or so odd poem collection, most notably rain and autumn (even the book's cover, pictured above, is part of the thematic whole). I will illustrate with 2 more, 2 of my favorites, from this fine, provocative collection of new haiku:
leaves . . .
mn in autumn
Did I mention how very important sound is to Rowland? Yes, I thought so. May I confess, most miserably, how very, very much I wish I'd written this poem ... mmn? I always love "leaves" as both a verb and a noun, especially in a poem of 6 nearly words. And this one, this one:
leaf I leave
on the floor of
I would say we need a scholar here to deliver the definitive treatise on time, that is past, present, and future time, in classic haiku, only I'm too busy brushing away the tears.
How about you?
Before Music is published by Red Moon Press, it fits perfectly in the hand, perfectly in the mind. Get it here direct from Red Moon Press.
After all, it is Small Press Friday.
Photograph by E. W. Kelley (1908)
the children play
translated by David G. Lanoue
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Go to the LitRock web site for a list of all 158 songs