January 2011
A review of

The Cloud Corporation

by Timothy Donnelly

Central question: How can you write Harmonium after 9/11?
Publisher: Wave Books; Pages: 153; Partial list of authors and texts cited: Eyewitness Mesopotamia, The Egyptian Book of the Dead, the USA PATRIOT Act, Bruce Springsteen, Arthur Schopenhauer, Osama bin Laden, the theme song to The Beverly Hillbillies, the Rule of Saint Benedict, Gustave Flaubert, Percy Bysshe Shelley, “The 9/11 Commission Report,” Edward Gibbon; Representative lines: “The world tries hard to bore me to death, but not hard enough. / Today it made me sit immobile in the bath- / water upwards of an hour, but the fact is, World— / I was totally into it.”; Author’s favorite Fleetwood Mac song: “Sara”

Timothy Donnelly’s recent poems seem freshly torn between a love of those poetic privileges maintained by Wallace Stevens—to transform the world by metaphor, to retreat from the corporate hustle into the mind, to ruminate perpetually on clouds—and a sense that these are mere escapism, or no escape, an inadequate response to the world we can’t forget we have a hand in ruining. This double bind has turned Donnelly from a gifted poet into a truly moving one: joining the ethos of George Oppen to a lush idiom and ironical sensibility, these poems dream that music and imaginative play can keep us awake in the still-redeemable world, authorizing that dream through its interrogation.

The book opens with the fall from Eden as a movement indoors into “a room without theme,” and most of these poems concern the poet’s relation to the world that room unhappily succeeds, or fails, in keeping at a distance. Donnelly’s speakers address “the world” as an absent deity or lover, often posthumously, desperate to stay speaking—as if it would vanish should they stop. They want to describe what they see (polluted environments, imported fruit, “humanity / in the park’s stonework”), but doing so reminds them of their complicity in creating what they find: “Taking shots of the sunbaked fields of putrefaction // visible from the observation deck. Hoping to capture / what I can point to as the way it feels. Sensing my hand / in what I push away.” For Donnelly, acknowledging the presence of this hand is the condition for both an aesthetics and a politics.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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—David Gorin

David Gorin is an MFA student in poetry at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a doctoral student in English Literature at Yale. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Jacket, Teen People, and A Public Space.

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