Arsenic Lobster poetry journal
Kathleen Rooney, Oneiromance (an epithalamion) |
Switchback Books, October 2008, 59 pp
In ancient Greece, an epithalamion (also spelled epithalamium) was composed and sung by a young chorus to accompany a betrothed couple in a procession from the bride's present house to her future home. In the hands of poets like Sappho and Pindar, it was developed into a poetic form, and in 1595 Edmund Spencer set the gold standard with his Amoretti And Epithalamion, a tour-de-force of 89 sonnets and a 433 line epithalamion, written for his intended wife, Elizabeth Boyle.
Kathleen Rooney's Oneiromance (an epithalamion) raises the stakes by addressing two couples. As Spencer's groom was Spencer himself, the brides' personas are Rooney and her sister Beth. Whether they are to be married in a double ceremony or just within close proximity is a matter of interpretation; the point is that this gives the poet twice the material to explore. The "groom" and the "sidekick groom" — as they are referred to — receive equal billing (albeit no names) thus widening the playing field even further.
The 31 poems are categorized by place: Brazil, the Midwest and Niagara Falls. All but the Niagara Falls poems, which are labeled Scapbooks, are titled Dreams. And as dreams do, these poems range in tone from the outright psychedelic to just-left-of-center realism. Departing from the Spencerian end-rhymed form, Rooney writes in stichic verse, often in couplets, liberally layering internal rhyme to concatenate images or to progress a narrative:
While traditional epithalamions consist of blessings and wishes for happiness, Rooney deploys such idealism cheek-to-jowl with fears of commitment, complacency, and fidelity, in settings almost always as theatrical as the ceremony itself:
In lockstep with the conflict inherent in the idea of marriage — whether happily-ever-after can coexist with the drudgery and temptations of daily life — Rooney intersperses a deadpan syntax, her gaze often fastening on icons of our modern and oft-mundane landscape ("The AAA guidebook calls our Howard Johnson an architectural treasure.") with elevated, at times ethereal, language:
Rooney's command of language and tone is often breathtaking. A heady mix of sophistication and whimsy (classical mythology, nursery rhymes, snippets of lyrics from banal wedding songs), the music always enchants. However, words never seem chosen for their music at the sacrifice of their accuracy. See, for example, how far just one letter is milked in this dream wedding beseiged by swarms of mayflies:
Someone recently asked me if I knew anyone who wrote poems when they were happy, the common wisdom being that the endeavor is (more often than not) a misery-laden one. I pulled Oneiromance out from my bag and flourished it triumphantly. For all the exhiliration and wonder at finding one's life partner are here to be found. Luckily for us, this sweetness is mixed with one part post-modernism, two parts apprehension, and a healthy pinch of loss.
Kudos also go out to Carrie Scanga and Cathy Nieciecki, respectively, for their engaging cover art and innovative book design. Switchback Books has put out a highly successful book both inside and out, one well-deserving of their 2007 Gatewood Prize.--
Poetry Editor, Arsenic Lobster Poetry Journal