The Cloud Corporation - Timothy Donnelly
One of the reasons I started this blog was because I wasn’t seeing much conversation going on about the books of poetry that I was most interested in. My how times are changing. Mary Jo Bang, Rae Armantrout, Keith Waldrop, all with recent major awards, and large notice going out to Rachel Zucker, and many others in The New York Times, and on and on. I’m not quite sure what to make of it. Is this really part of a change in the reading habits of whomever it is who reads poetry? Or is this just a blip of inclusion that is going to swing some other way next ? Whatever happens, I still am surprised a book that captured my imagination as Timothy Donnelly’s The Cloud Corporation has this fall, has seemingly captured the imaginations of many others as well.
I've posted on it, with a poem, briefly before:
But there's much more to say.
The Cloud Corporation is an elusive book. It’s both highly metaphorical and abstract as well as direct and aggressive, by turns. It’s a large book: 147 pages of poetry. It resists the very sorts of things that usually make books of poems popular (for poetry): overt autobiography, usually in the form of some historical or traumatic personal event, as well as short poems that encapsulate the “project” and nod to an instance. Instead The Cloud Corporation is largely cultural, with nods to the ideas of both “could” and “corporation.” Many of the poems are long, going on for several pages in numbered sections. It’s lyrical, and beautifully rendered, but it’s also structured with a bureaucratic thread, a sort of overwhelming pile of long sentences and intricate ways to navigate minute distinctions. Call it a combination of red carpet and red tape. By all accounts, it shouldn’t work. But instead it’s one of my very favorite books of the year, one that I’m returning to this week, as luck would have it, just as the most recent review, the link to which I just got this morning, went live over at The Constant Critic:
Here are some bits from the review:
“The Cloud Corporation has earned reviews in venues usually disinclined to praise younger poets; the book is only Donnelly’s second, and it has been seven years since his first. Part of what accounts for this celebration (which is wholly due, I think) is the book’s fearless cerebration. I agree with this assessment, but not because brains are good for their own sake—that’s zombie logic—but rather because the unfolding of Donnelly’s thoughts, as beautiful as a bolt of silk flung down a marble staircase, is central to his subject. Think about that action, though: in any individual example, it’s an apotheosis of skill. Taken in aggregate, however, it can become, well, monstrous. One bolt of silk unfolds with liquid loveliness. Billions of bolts of silk unfolding in slow motion begin to inspire organic unease. The machinery of life is elegant at scale; expand the scale and it becomes gross, horrible, cancerous, Blob-like.
“Donnelly’s plenty smart, but it’s his focus on the plenitude that matters here.
. . .
“What I admire most about The Cloud Corporation is Donnelly’s frank yet elaborate acknowledgment that these riches are, essentially, good for nothing. A view from the top is a view to the apocalypse. From without, The Blob is a threat; from within, it’s a womb the comfort of which is compromised by the individual’s sense of how their privilege and their predicament are one.
. . .
“The Cloud Corporation is a big book, big and sublime in that it inspires a kind of queasy awe. Its strengths are considerable, even as the poet dissolves the distinction between macro and micro to tell us how it feels to be all wound up with nowhere to go. But I treasure it in terms I rarely apply to art: this book is great because it’s true. In reading it I regularly shuttled between the satisfactions of the verse (‘That’s that!’) and admiring dread (‘Fuck. That is that.’)”
I will add to the review that if you happen upon a copy, and I hope you will, and if you don’t like it, which I hope doesn’t happen, that before you put it away you skip to section four. If you’re going to read the whole thing, please do. It’s absolutely worth it. But section four, you must read, whoever you are.
Here’s the first poem from section four to get you started:
THROUGH THE WILDERNESS OF HIS FOREHEAD
You wager too much, small self, on the way you feel. Nothing
you have thought should last forever can’t be lost.
Even the yellow wind that begins at once to strip the last of the
heart-shaped foliage from the tree across the way
knows that feeling is a spell from which the mind can
rouse itself awake if it would only let itself be taken
leaf by leaf apart. And you have felt this fear before, clung
as to a vapor misremembering what had stood to
live through memory alone. Or was it afterwards among
fog folded into blankets of some self-erasing sleep.
Or when, conversely, focused on the constancy of any given
thing without dispersing, undissolved—an icecap-
white moon or clock-face on a tower—the mind intent on far
too fine a point to take in any more. You will outlive
yourself again, and what you feel now, this adamantine
sorrow, will scatter its dicethrow behind you into swans.