Most poetry books do not matter. The work is all too often a voyage into the rather uninteresting soul of the socially awkward or the terminally narcissistic. More often than not it is hard to even get through many poetry books and when a book comes along that draws you in and keeps you interested all for the better.
There are however some poets whose work matters; Peter Gizzi's poetry matters, Jennifer Moxley's poetry matters, Lisa Jarnot's poetry matters these poets have something that others do not their work has the perfect mix of history, art and style to make one want to read and know more and spend time with the work.
Before reading Rhode Island Notebook by Gabriel Gudding I did not think his work mattered. All too often I was embarrassed or grossed out by some of the work. I found it too shocking or too vulgaresque for my liking and this is from a poet whose new book has sadomasochism and Leni Reifenstahl as a focus.
I bought Rhode Island Notebook mostly for the cool cover and I began to spend time with it. The book is a kind of journey book about GG's trips from Normal, IL to Rhode Island to see his daughter. There are so many things going on in this book that I want to take them in pieces.
First off there is the ancient journey myth tradition. Like his antecedents, Abraham, Marco Polo, Ibn Battuta and Lewis and Clark Gudding makes the road come alive and revives a genre of poetry and writing that has been mostly dead since Kerouac. In a time when journey books like the Motorcycle Diaries are back in vogue Gudding gives us a post modern journey that is constantly bending and turning and letting us see what he is thinking and what he has learned over time while he journeys from the middle to the edge of America. This part of the book alone makes it worth reading but there is so much more.
It is not fashionable to talk about what it means to be male. Women's studies is an acceptable course of study- men's studies is a case for pointing out everything that men have done wrong for 60,000 years. But there is a tradition of Maleness in writing that has been ignored by today's poets. A character like Captain Ahab in Moby Dick or Aeneas in The Aeneid is not possible today but Gudding has created for us a new Male paradigm in this book he has opened up the fact of being a man- while leaving the unfortunate stereotypes and stupidness behind. The Rhode Island Notebook is the first Post-Feminist poem that men can embrace as well as women because it addresses the insecurity of the new gender environment head on and well.
Rhode Island Notebook's best lines are the ones about ordinary things. Stopping to pee or to buy a sandwich or coffee. So many contemporary poets would rather write about things they know nothing about rather than deal with the simple and banal- Gudding saves us from this
making the simple exciting in ways we cannot comprehend.
In the end The Rhode Island Notebook matters because it has redefined the journey, maleness and detail in a way that other great works of this type have. Gudding has taken eternal archetype's and overlayed them with fine language and innovative transitions to bring us a great book and one that needs to be read for the important work that it is.