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Rosenblatt, Joe.

Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, c1985. 206pp, paper, $12.95, ISBN 0-7710-7721-1.CIP

Reviewed by Pamela Black

Volume 14 Number 4
1986 July

The series, The Modern Canadian Poets, publishes anthologies of the works of various English Canadians in an attempt to consistently present the finest in this arena of contemporary poetry. Toronto-born Joe Rosenblatt is the latest to be honoured in this series, in the collection entitled Poetry Hotel, a sampling of his work that spans the years 1963-1985. Almost all the material presented here is from previously published collections. The book is illustrated with Rosenblatt's own drawings, also from previous publications.

John Newlove, to whom the poem "Sunlight, Green Living Things. . ." is dedicated, is quoted on the back cover as saying "Joe Rosenblatt's poetry is a Harry Houdini. Just when the terminally sane think they have it bound with chains, gagged in a safe at the bottom of the river, here it is again, escaped into the onen air to be seen and heard by everyone who loves the magic trickiness of freedom." If this is the case, it would be insanity to attempt to discuss the contents of this book in any detail. Surrealism's strength, and Rosenblatt is certainly a surrealist poet, is also its weakness. Its glorious confounding of the logical, moral, and conventional realms of meaning and interpretation renders contact with it an experience both private and fleeting. There will always be occasions when surrealism says nothing at all to the individual reader, but this is the chance that reader and writer must be willing to take when they engage in the paradox of transmitting unknown and unknowable nuances of the human condition.

Rosenblatt now lives on Vancouver Island and, perhaps there is a connection here, many of his images are natural. He loves bees, fish, eels, and eggs, in no particular order and in no fixed relation to the world of thought or feeling. His sensuous mingling of the human with the natural has caused him to be called "a romantic visionary" by The Globe and Mail, but this can hardly be the case since surrealism opposes vision and certainly opposes the metaphysical, which the vision is traditionally thought to be of. Neither are his poems about the natural world, as others claim, since natural operation really only provide the occasion and principle for the poets feelings and expressions.

What then can we say Rosenblatt's poetry does have to do with? We can only say that at the root of all the dream imagery and loosely connected impressions that emerge in his literature there is always a sense of self that is either being sought or denied, celebrated or castigated, but which always transcends, with its often undesired identity, the disparity of the images the author creates. Rosenblatt writes: "Mood minnows swim in my brain/hungry for distillation of colour/A reflections in the singing fields of self,... stars/are hot coals in my brain lighting up/ a grey-brown rat of the self." And, in a poem called "Half an Egg on the Lawn," "The topless zero is a miniature of my mind/without the bird, the sick enigma/ fed on light."

I cannot recommend this book for class-room consumption, but whether these adumbrations speak to the individual is for the individual to decide.

Pamela Black, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, B.C.
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