Robyn Art's Vestigial Portions of the Dead Sea Scrolls
Robyn Art's Vestigial Portions of the Dead Sea Scrolls is a not-quite-convincing collection of poems loosely constructed, and then presented as one long book-length poem. I say "not quite," because the poems do not quite fit together, but this is the trick of the post-post-modern poet: to hammer the square pegs into the round holes and declare that "it fits," splinters and all.
Vestigial begins with a short introductory note penned by the fictitious Mrs. Jennifer Wilson, a dying woman burdened with cancer who is about to go under the knife, and is doing her best to put her affairs in order. She imparts to the mysterious reader (and the Church) the writings of her husband George, a series of poems and prose recording the resigned, existential observations of a life mired in a podunk setting.
The poems - both list and prose - are well executed, astute, and appropriately - for the subject matter - lyrically bleak. The isolation, a la Stranger in a Strange Land, is the underlying theme of Vestigial, demonstrated in the cautionary poem, "Dear Emancipated Minor":
I will not attempt to sway you herein
from your big rancorous dreams of working
the Hooter's off the interstate or the BK
two towns over any more than I'd turn
myself in or jump in the sack with a True Believer.
Enter botched dye jobs,
the unrepentant fuselage of your
small-town romance, the years bought on
layaway from the Rent-A-Center in the sky.
Like many of you, I'm waiting for the day
when monkeys fly out of my butt but until then, let it be said
that I've made the slagheap my own.
When I'm gone, batten your hatches and pat
your nearest and dearest down. Accept this gift of my
exoneration and remorse.
If isolation were the only glue holding Vestigial together, this would be a stronger collection. Unfortunately, the deus ex machina factor is suspended by the interruption of short plaintive missives by the fictional Mrs. Wilson, whose debilitated condition expresses increasing fear and remorse, as well as a fervent hope that God will forgive her sins, both real and imagined.
My reaction to these interruptions is one of irritation, instead of compassion for a dying woman's plight. As a reader who loves to be slowly enveloped in the river of images and words of Art's excellent poetry, being sucked out by an amateurish literary device spoils the whole experience.
Vestigial is a great little book, both for the price ($5), and the poetic content. My other beef is that the publisher forgot to ask the printer to trim off the edges of the book. My recommendation: buy the book, enjoy the poetry, and hope that someday, a new edition will be released.
(Vestigial Portions of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Robyn Art, Copyright 2006 Dancing Girl Press, www.dancinggirlpress.com, 39 pages, saddle stapled, soft cover, $5)