TELLING HIS OWN TALE: Jonathan Aldrich.
In Jonathan Aldrich’s new semi-autobiographical poetic sequence, The Ring Road (Limerock Books, 2007), there are moments, between the last line of one poem and the beginning of the next, that simply shimmer. The context and anecdotes of the poems shift, but some filament of affinity connects them, like the associative space of memory itself.
One poem concerns the mythical flasher that preoccupies the leery, giggling children of Cambridge: “What beauty or blood/or danger swelled the Charles/I walked along to school?” In the next piece the subject changes, but theme lingers in a child’s realization of our skewed, unknowable realm: “The world is off, and we/don’t know the tilt of Heaven;/can hardly explain even/why the whitethroat sings/on certain days only.”
A collection that spans from childhood through maturity, this latest book of the Cape Elizabeth poet is prismatic, refracting the arc of a life into many-toned moments and images. There are the grandmother’s false teeth, the chuckling goblins under the house, the smell of piss in the alley “refreshing because/the standards are not high here.” Aldrich also moves lightly between points of view, between first and third person, between the ingénue and the aged. It all scintillates, and is also particularly well-suited to be the center of a Longfellow’s Shorts author event, slated for January 28.
Presented by the Portland Stage Company Affiliate Artists, the event brings together a selection of professional actors, who will read selections of Aldrich’s The Ring Road and other books, with Aldrich himself, who will read from some of his influences. A discussion with the author will follow this miscellany of voices and insights into Aldrich’s work.
The Ring Road is the latest of Aldrich’s five collections of poetry, including a translation of Baudelaire’s Le Voyage, and his work has also appeared in the multi-author collection Summer Lines (see “Lyrical Gangstas,” by Megan Grumbling, November 3, 2006). He has worked as assistant director at the prestigious Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, taught for many years at Maine College of Art, and was honored with awards from the Academy of American Poets and the Baxter Society.
His new book, composed in graceful stanzas of five lines, three per poem, is light of touch and rich in cumulative glimmers. The arc of these poems is, in essence, a cycle or return — a “ring.” Like the “double-chalice of/the sand timer” of the new Scrabble set is “fine but irrelevant,” so is his actual chronology unlimited by the linear. As times wears on, young things return: the “kohl-eyed teddy bear,” given away without his knowledge once he’d grown; the “little toy” of his boyhood Cambridge skyline on the way home; the insubstantial, “clear and fragrant” names of places — “Brattle Street and Rose,/Berea and Cape Elizabeth....”
Like water and light in a long day’s array of relations, Ring Road is both a brilliantly gleaming whole and a collection of scattered gleams. Indeed, it strikes the narrator that “the whole/puzzle works in reverse” — that the mystery of a life diffuses into ever more numerous glints. It’s an idea that, like this lovely collection, is both familiar and vast. “No wonder I feel disjointed,” he writes, “when I stop to contemplate/fragments of me throughout/the world — the universe.”
The Ring Road And Other Wanderings — The Poetry Of Jonathan Aldrich | Presented by Portland Stage Company Affiliate Artists | 7 pm January 28 | at the Portland Performing Arts Center | 207.774.1043 x105
Megan Grumbling can be reached at