The Invisible World Is in Decline Book IX

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Pub Date 12 Apr 2022 | Archive Date 07 Dec 2021

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The stunning conclusion to a 40-year poetic project

In the tradition of earlier modernist long poems like Ezra Pound’s Cantos and bp Nichol’s The Martyrology, The Invisible World Is in Decline: Book IX is full of startling poetic music and imagery while addressing concerns to which every reader will respond: the life of the heart as well as life during COVID-19, love as well as death, philosophy as well as emotion. The poems are deeply responsive to what an epigraph from Virgil calls “vows and prayers,” i.e., those things that we desire and promise. Like previous books of Whiteman’s long poem, Book IX is largely in the form of the prose poem. But the book also contains a moving series of translations in traditional form of texts taken from songs by composers like Schubert and Beethoven, songs that are by turns tragic, meditative, lyrical, and touching. The concluding section focuses on an obsession that poets have had for 2,500 years: inspiration, in the form of the nine Muses. At the heart of this book is what Whiteman calls “the bright articulate world,” something visionary but accessible to every thoughtful reader.

The stunning conclusion to a 40-year poetic project

In the tradition of earlier modernist long poems like Ezra Pound’s Cantos and bp Nichol’s The Martyrology, The Invisible World Is in Decline:...

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ISBN 9781770416574

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Being the culmination of an ongoing, 40-year “long poem” that I am ashamed to admit I am unfamiliar with, “The Invisible World is in Decline: Book IX” by Bruce Whiteman brings the project to a stunning climax in three distinct parts.
Less like poems than isolated paragraphs, or at times just single lines, “In Disgrace With God” explores lost love, and finds the poet seeing his empty bed as an accusatory constant in his life. Later the text touches on the purpose of a poet and of poetry, namely to be the “suffering artist”. There is pain and beauty here in equal measure.
The second piece is entitled “Wörte ohne Lieder”, literally “songs without words” (a twist on Mendelssohn's “Lied ohne Worte” collection of piano pieces), Bruce Whiteman proffers translations of texts that were set to music over the years; the works of Mahler and Beethoven becoming vaguely modern, pain-filled love letters.
Centrepiece of the collection is “The Nine”, with each numbered section named after the nine Muses. This work is quite wonderful and ostensibly each section corresponds with each Muse’s specific field of expertise. With interjections from the psychopomp, (a guide for souls travelling to the afterlife in Greek mythology, here becoming, according to Whiteman, the master of dreams) it is probably the best literary examination of the pandemic I have ever read. Whiteman utterly nails the isolation and boredom of lockdown-life; reading it left me aching more than my arm after the vaccine. He takes us on a visceral journey through nature as season inexorably follows season, and we get a strong sense throughout of the crushing weight of time and the endless days of nothingness during quarantine.
Fragile yet occasionally brutal, this collection is sublime. It made a strong impression on me on my first reading, which is a good indication of the quality of the work, and I now feel compelled to explore the previous parts.

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“Gradually people are pulling away: crossing the street, speaking less, staying alone at home. Everything harbours a possible link to illness and death: first-class letters, pears from the grocery store, the disregarded hockey stick, the handrail on the stairway, laughter, the colicky baby on an airplane. Why are you travelling, anyway? Go home and be lonesome. Stick it out.”

So many things that poetry does for one’s soul and this is absolutely no exception. So many parts of this beautiful work are now stuck with me, welcomed with open arms to live rent free in my brain for all my days. Wether your new to poetry writing or have a long time love affair with it I highly recommend this one.

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