Fifty years ago, dining at the Eberharts in Hanover, New Hampshire, Robert Lowell leaned towards me like a stricken man and said, with painful gravity, “Macbeth is very, very dark. The only thing that saves it is the poetry.”
I would now like to add that whether we contemplate a tragic or comic vision, a realistic or fanciful one, in the end what saves all poetry is the poetry itself. Nowhere else in our efforts to communicate do the musical qualities of language contribute so intimately and inescapably to the so-called “meaning” of a text. In poetry, without the sound there is no sense. There is no salvation.
Colette Inez’ new book The Luba Poems dwells mostly in the realm of the capricious, the witty, the gaudy, the playful, the comic, the spritely, the joyous, the fun-filled, the exuberant. Mercurial Luba, her name the Russian diminutive for Love, bounces around the real world and the world of diction with the spontaneity of a puppy dog. However, all that effervescence, that undeniable joie de vivre, springs entirely from the language in which it is rooted. Without that language, Colette, Luba’s confidant and puppeteer, might be filled with an incredible élan vital, but we would never know it.
If I had to place Colette in the modern poetry scene, I would say she is a most mischevious kid sister to Wallace Stevens. Listen to this:
They sang to choristers
Who swayed like trees
In the rush of huzzahs
Before rain crashed down
Luba Quince at the Clavier, no?
We all have feelings. Only poets have words. In any case, here is a poet, armed with words, and delighted to fulfill her role as Homo ludens. Playful, delightful, and serious at the same time.
Let us watch and listen as the adventurous journey begins:
“When the name
Luba lifts away
like a leaf in hard rain
or goes missing
from its cage—
a parakeet not answering
or a scrap of light
snagged by a cloud…
How about the pure music of this lightly lilting phrase: “in a frangipani-scented mist,” drawn from a poem about poets called “Noting Names,” in which
“her known identity [is] named
by the pull of the tide, the unlettered sun.”
Or, in “Din Spool, a Bibliophile,” the lively contrast between a harried world of “drill, whine,/buzz, bang,” from which she “longs to be soothed by anapests at the crest/ of the waves”—and there they are: anapests and waves together.
Often enough, the titles of her poems refer to music: “Cadenzas for Johnny,” “Serpa Bell Song,” “Luba Looks at a Menu and Thinks of Music,” and the concluding poem in the book “The Singers.” As for pure sound, here are just a few whiffs drifting among these poems: “Coco Chiroco,” “the moon/frazzled blue jazz in riffs over the river,” “disco, jazz, twist, funk…plunked bumpty-bump/from a neighbors whoopee room piano…,” “swerve on like the moon-June jackpot/ of dicey days in the mean meantime,” “in the freeze-grip-crunch of their last bang,” “hunters/ of springbok, dik-dik, antelopes,” “ hey hey di hay… glory wa wa… Doba dee da doba da dee.” Yes, the lady loves sound. And does she sing scat!
However, I would like to note that mixed in with the joyous life-affirming music, there are reminders of the grave side to the human condition. In a poem imagining an abandoned polar bear cub, she concludes “How can he know she, too, /has lost her mother/to blue infinities?” To readers familiar with Colette’s life work and life story those “blue infinities” suggest a poignant sorrow, never utterly healed. In “Luba Reads Merwin,” the conclusion is both valiant and philosophically rather desperate, as it portrays in lovely language our lovely, lonely pathos: “knowing words are tireless and travel/out of nothing to a vacancy of stars.” And in the important final poem of the collection, she concludes with a paean of praise to song and an acknowledgment of its dark source:
glory wa wa to the highest
bird lit by the sun
from the stream
clouds leaned in
gathered that dark
where singing comes from
Doba dee da doba da dee
If we are saved, our salvation is both exultant and fragile, a salvation fresh with stream, sunlight, and song, but all in the moment.
Read this book. It is a book of love, as the title suggests: love for the world, love for language, love for us all in our painful, glorious human condition.