Tuesday, December 07, 2010

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:


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.


At 12/07/2010 9:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't get it. Adamantine sorrow? Dice thrown into swans? Doesn't this trouble anybody else's smell test?

At 12/07/2010 9:07 AM, Blogger Patricia Lockwood said...

I can't wait to read this--I think I'm getting it for Christmas. I have a disorder where I'm compelled to read absolutely anything Wave puts out, including grocery lists and manifestoes

At 12/07/2010 9:11 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I often want to push back against modification of this sort as well, but the idea of a kind of lusterous sorrow, I found persuasive. And then the dice isn't dice but a dicethrow, so that it's the lusterous sorrow that scatters behind you and turns into swans, which seems to me a very nice description of how one might deal with a sorrow as it goes into one's back story.

At 12/07/2010 9:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does the adamant have a luster? I read that word as denoting impervious, which, incidentally I can see applying to sorrow, but stop there already, or face being quoted in a marginal BLOCK THAT METAPHOR bit somewhere or other.

If everybody wants what looks from here like competent academic poetry from sixty years ago, okay then.

At 12/07/2010 9:49 AM, Blogger Patricia Lockwood said...

Adamantine is a mineral, Anon, a kind of spar.

At 12/07/2010 10:49 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I read it, to verify, in my trusty American Heritage Dictionary as having the "hardness or luster of a diamond."

So we can all be right. But I prefer the "luster of a diamond" reading. That fits better.

At 12/07/2010 11:47 AM, Blogger Patricia Lockwood said...

Right, "adamantine luster" is a measure of luster applied to other minerals, most notably diamond. And reading it with an awareness of its dual adjective/noun-ness gives a little more clatter to that dicethrow, as well.

Oh my God we are thinking too hard

At 12/07/2010 12:33 PM, Anonymous Julio de Luna said...

Tell me, where are the galleys
for my manuscript
God At the End of Time?
Did they become lost
like galleons in the ice
floe river of the mail?
God daubs a generic Rogaine
on his ancient pate,
watches his sons on television
with barely concealed
contempt, sexually frustrate.
This was the plot of my book.
Where are the galleys!?

- de Luna

At 12/07/2010 5:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 12/07/2010 5:23 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


Nah, we're not thinking too hard. Good poetry has layers and reveals all sorts of things to different ways of thinking along with it. This sort of thing is fun.

At 12/07/2010 8:06 PM, Blogger Robert Mc said...

Thanks for the post John--your thoughtful praise made me go and order myself a dang copy.

At 12/08/2010 1:38 PM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...

I would like a copy of this. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

At 12/08/2010 3:03 PM, Blogger Whimsy said...

Thanks for the thoughtful introduction to Cloud Corporation, about which I've heard a lot, but haven't seen any actual work before.

I'm with Trish (and others) on the effectiveness of the last lines. I felt the poem got off to a bit of a rocky start but gathered strength through intelligence and music. The passages that require slowing down to parse (Nothing you have thought should last forever can’t be lost) threw me, perhaps.

My loved ones are on alert that this is on my Christmas list.


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