Andrea Brady reviews
Left Under a Cloud by Stephen Rodefer
Alfred David Editions, London 2000. ISBN 1 874433 07 0
This piece is 2,000 words or about four printed pages long.
Stephen Rodefer’s Left Under a Cloud collects and reasserts his writing of the last ten years. Rodefer has, tactically and syntactically, been a remarkably consistent writer since the fantastic Four Lectures of 1982. In Left Under a Cloud , two rival tendencies characteristic of his work bundle and spark: the hard candor spat out by a fictionalising racy self, exemplified by ‘Anemic Cinema’; and the wordplay of ‘Stiller Blemish’ or ‘Harkening Still’. Usually Rodefer’s indiscriminate muse drawls over cinematic stories — Bogart as the Poet, tapping gruff lyrics in a hotel room as he waits for a down-at-heel Princess Di.
The fracas of desire collates us in an endgame
It’s a synopsis for a work in progress. For Rodefer’s poetry documents the wanderings of man as amalgam between the parentheses of cultural experience. It cuts nothing out; it collates recklessly. Standing at the junction where lives cross or are wrecked or too fast, he annotates the whir and whiz of human transport without overmuch concern for the value of the freight.
Now time to immortalize a little of the immediate they’ve been shoving interminably at us. Thumb your noses at the conduit by cutting out the content. Embarrass the whole arrangement by staying what has no duration.
Rodefer invites us to rebel against the authorities who mow down language as if it were just blades of information. His love of the immediate transforms the mediated, revalues the debased currency of ads and slang. Part of this love washes through spoken language, ‘set down as heard’ so that ‘the imagination of the listener and of the poet are left free to mingle’ (Four Lectures p. 25). His ear has long been tuned to the musicality and errors of daily speech. But look at the expression: that mingling also serves a copulative need.
* * *
Is Stephen Rodefer American? The review quotes packaged with Cloud document his democratic impulse deployed as verbal inclusion. The deep breaths exhaled by his broad lines, his declarative sentences and their assertive plangency, his deliberate tactlessness and brave humor, redirect the reader to a history of poetic Yanks: Whitman, Williams. The sharp-shooting humor and quick transitions owe a great deal to Kenneth Koch.
retiring to his Connecticut
he is the true laureate. But while it may not be sporty and leisurely, his poetry certainly is occasional, composed in Cambridge between King’s College Bar and kebabs from Gardenia’s. He celebrates the occasions because they prove his fidelity to the social; his poems are living in-the-world. He survives on luck and funds outside the academy, preferring to drink with people in the real world dealing with ‘death and sloppiness’ (‘Brief to Butterick’). A poet of remarkable affectation who packs high-calibre allusive firepower, Rodefer nonetheless berates the high-minded rarefied vates —
Ahem, when I hear the words
Rodefer’s poetry is about waking up naked with a grump or a stranger in the bed, not about sleeping through a chaste poetic fantasy and mistaking it for oracular truth.
myself to language. It makes a goal. I am open mouthed.
Rodefer’s sportive heroics encourage users of English to reacquaint themselves with its possible applications, and the wide field for poetic exploit. His hyped-up persona may be self-indulgent, but it is not therefore egocentric: because Left Under a Cloud communicates most effectively that through love of others we can come to a universalizing knowledge. It’s intimate (often erotic) not philanthropic love which binds the subjects, and the reader and poet, together. His poems consequently seem intended for particular readers who inspired them; most are dedicated, and many use plaintive or possessive direct address. But the general pleasures of human company are themselves exposed through repetition of the particular. The artful fiction of intimate closure suggests itself in all its glorious history in allusions to Shakespeare or Wyatt.
Is the desire for pleasure as unworthy as it appears to be
Rodefer’s poetic affairs are wholly indiscreet. In ‘Erasers’, the moving love poem which climaxes this book, as he waits to meet a lover he meditates on the decline of empire and the narrowness of contemporary political or epistemological goals. He sits in King’s College Bar, staving off the reinvention of knowledge through institutions and terminology.
Statues, temples, libraries
Rodefer holds onto the particulars of experience, love, eating, pissing, as well as the extravagances of the literary past. He is didactic and effusive. His poetry would revitalize knowledge made anemic by the
over-documentation of an information age. Sadly, ‘Erasers’ advances his campaign against the ambitions of a woman who is about to abandon him for an academic post, to join ‘the hottest adornettes | of your era’.
like a lunatic
But the militancy of his vita contemplativa has softened. The republican writer, who could always get a sinecure in the new academic empire, opts instead for prolonged Tusculan exile.
In the unsettling West, we think our fellow
Left Under a Cloud refuses the misery of responsible efficiency; its surplus diction and luxurious decadence entertain us for a good time, in which anything can be consumed and concocted.
to thread the hole
I can love it in return, for the generosity of that risk and these instances.
Jacket 15 — December 2001 Contents page
This material is copyright © Andrea Brady
and Jacket magazine 2001