Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Underwater Lengths in a Single Breath

Underwater 04'12'2008 CsCJanni by Kilona
Underwater 04'12'2008 CsCJanni, a photo by Kilona on Flickr.
Benjamin Grossberg's collection Underwater Lengths in a Single Breath, begins by reminding us of a time when the complicated layers of the world around us could be explained more simply. There is a discovery, almost an innocence in the tone of the first section. "Everything could be taken in and absorbed"-where the events around us had meaning to everyone. and somebody's garbage was another man's treasure. And as cliche as that might sound, Grossberg articulates his experience of being a gay man, both its discovery, dealings, and its aftermath in hopes of giving back his experience to the reader.

This discovery is most clearly presented in "Arrowhead" where the slowing down of events in his life, the speaker at fourteen realizes the wonder of connecting to another man and discovers

how strange
the extent to which the notion of incompleteness
is itself incomplete until coupling comes.
In these poems, there is a sense of reassurance in this discovery of connecting to another man, a fulfillment.

The following sections continue the theme of self-discovery, but take a turn into a much darker dramatic tone. These poems range in discussion from AIDS in "West End of Dallas," ageism in "A Brief Tour with Whitman," to loneliness in "Edgar at Supper. Fifty Years On" and contrasts the first section's optimism for birth and celebration of youth and innocence--a desire to go back to the uncomplicated knowledge before adulthood, But this section ends with a sense of hope, by re-imagining the future. Although there is an awareness of having lived a long life in "Edgar at Supper, Fifty Years On," the speaker has accepted himself and knows "times seem so much more tranquil now" and the reader begins to see an enlightened perspective on life.

The last two sections close with a reflection on the writer's journey. He comes full circle and the reader is left to question what the speaker has given back to this life? In another optimistic section, the speaker celebrates what he has taken in and absorbed. With a twist on the myth of Hero and Leander, we are left with "One Last Thought" where Leander (the reader) returns to Hero (Grossberg) and these poems are the guiding light which will allow Leander to return.

Grossberg's collection showcases one of the most confident voices in recent first-book poetry collections. This 2005 selection for the Richard Snyder Publication Series highlights a collection of work by a writer who demonstrates a "tenacious dedication to craftsmanship and thematic integrity."

Ruben Quesada has poems and translations which have appeared or are forthcoming in Stand Magazine, Rattle, and Third Coast. He is currently a PhD candidate and teaching in the English Department at Texas Tech University in Lubbock.

Quesada, Ruben

Source Citation
Quesada, Ruben. "Underwater Lengths in a Single Breath." Lambda Book Report Spring-Summer 2008: 34+. Gender Studies Collection. Web. 20 Mar. 2012.
Document URL

Gale Document Number: GALE|A184550283

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