Why would anyone write poetry? It's not what you'd call glamourous. You're never going to make money at it. The best you can hope for is if you manage to publish a few books of poems you could possibly get picked up by some university to teach a creative writing class or get some work editing for literary magazines. The best poets I've known or read have jobs working in book stores and coffee shops in order to pay the bills. Yet, still they continue to write and produce poetry which only, perhaps, a few hundred people will ever read. Why?
The answer can be found in the poetry itself. When you read work of such sublime beauty that it takes your breath away; when you come to the end of a poem that makes you question your own abilities as a writer because you can't imagine ever being able to write what you've just read or you find your eyes involuntarily filling with tears while reading a scant twenty to thirty words, it becomes obvious why some people write poetry.
They really have no other choice. When you can see and hear the world around you like they do, you have to find a means of transcribing what you're experiencing as there's no way it can remain bottled up. Some people become painters to express themselves, but some few take the far more difficult path and paint their images with words.
One of the latter is Kingston Ontario Canada resident Bruce Kauffman. His latest book of poetry, The Silence Before the Whisper Comes, published by Hidden Brook Press, is the third of his books which I've reviewed, and while I have to admit to a certain amount of chauvinism as we share the same city of residence, he has to rank among the top living poets I've had the privilege of reading. While poetry, like all art, is highly subjective in its appreciation, Kauffman's work transcends anything so trivial as its readers likes or dislikes. Like the natural world it quite often alludes to it simply is, awaiting the discerning eye to glance upon it and appreciate the qualities which quantify its existence.
Attempting to interpret another's poetry is often a perilous journey fraught with the minefields of our own prejudices and preconceptions. We can only guess at what somebody was trying to say through the filter of our own beliefs. However, in the case of the gifted poets, no matter whether they use metaphor or analogy, the words on the page do more than simply express some thought or idea.
Instead of seeking some hidden meaning within the language, listen to the effect the accumulated words have on you emotionally. A poem should be the perfect marriage of heart and mind, the latter transcribing for the former to articulate its inner workings without ladening it with extraneous baggage or complications.
Kauffman's work in this book is as good an example of a poet bringing that union to life on the page as you're likely to find anywhere. While his poems are full to the brim with ideas and thought, there's no wading through tortured intellectual process to enter the emotional core of the matter. At the same time, he doesn't spell anything out for you allowing the reader to follow their own process until they reach a conclusion. You never once feel like you're being either led by the nose to see the author's point of view or made so confused you literally can't see the forest for the trees.
Considering Kauffman's use of the natural world in his poems as a means of expressing his opinions on the world around him, I guess that's a bit ironic. However, there's also a great deal of truth in it. For while some tend to try and overload their poems with imagery or ideas Kauffman's work reminds us of the beauty of simplicity. Instead of gushing forth a torrent of words in order to impress us with his emotional depth, Kauffman manages to find a way of communicating without overwhelming us. Whether intentional or not, his work is a perfect example of the credo less is more.
As befits any artist, he doesn't limit himself to a single subject matter. Everything, from the act of writing to describing the scene of an automobile accident are talked about. However, the way he sees, and how he describes what he sees, make it feel while he might walk through the same world you and I inhabit, his vision operates in a different focal range from the rest of us.
Not that he attempts to make the world something its not. Rather he directs our eyes to see that which is hidden beneath the obvious. The obscure, the beautiful, the ugly and the pain are caught by the simple act of being in a certain place at a certain time. If you didn't know any better you'd think things were waiting for him to come along so he could describe them.
I'm reluctant to quote from any of his poems in this review, because the words taken out of their overall context will lose their meaning. Even when scouring the longer poems, and some of them do stretch over a number of pages, I find it hard to remove a segment as an example of Kauffman's work. The words feel orphaned when separated from their main body. It would be like showing you an amputated limb and trying to tell you what the rest of the body looks like.
Could you tell what a painting looked like if someone cut out a small section from the outer edge, or even the middle? You might get some idea of the artist's technique, but you'd still be none the wiser as to the paintings overall appearance. However, at the conclusion of this review I've included a copy of one poem, hoping that it will give you some indication as to the quality of his work.
It's easy enough to write a poem. What's difficult is writing a poem which offers its readers a chance to experience the world in ways they never would have thought of on their own. Most poets are content with offering you glimpses into their own lives or showing you their reflections in the mirror of their paper. Bruce Kauffman is one of those rare poets who turns his vision outward and then reflects it back onto the page for us to bear witness. This is not only the work of a gifted writer, but of a gifted artist. The Silence Before the Whisper Comes can be purchased from most on line book retailers.
blue rain (by Bruce Kauffman The Silence Before the Whisper Comes Hidden Brook Press 2013 pg.28)
with this page before me
waiting to catch moisture
there are times when words
no longer freely fall
and on those days i take
the lavender bowl to
the barrel beneath
the corner eve of the house
i draw from barrel's surface
the wet words
then with tongs
dripping black ink
i separate and pull words
from the bowl
and place them gently
on a page
to be there
but their heart
is still floating
in yesterday's sky
Article originally published at Empty Mirror as Book review: The Silence Before The Whisper Comes By Bruce Kauffman)
(Originally posted January 2014)
Richard Marcus is the author of two commissioned works published by Ulysses Press, editor in the books section of Blogcritics.org and contributor at Qantara.de. He has been writing since 2005 and his work has appeared in publications all over the world including the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine.