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The Bunker in the Parsley Fields (1997): In Former Soviet Russia, Apartment Building Lives in You

Gary Gildner, The Bunker in the Parsley Fields (University of Iowa Press, 1997)

 

The cover of the book is a photograph of the building in its title.

Sorry about the image size–every other image on the net had obviously been sourced from the same file, which is either corrupted or of a copy with a damaged cover.
photo credit: ebay

I’m a little in awe of Gary Gildner right now. I just finished the first book of his I have ever encountered, The Bunker in the Parsley Fields, and it guarantees that I will be seeking out more of his stuff. And here I’m going to illustrate an odd paradox when it comes to poetry, at least when I read it: when I encounter a poem that blows me away in a collection that strikes me as inconsistent (as this one does), it hits me a lot harder than it does when I encounter a poem that blows me away in an entire book of poems that blows me away (e.g. George Bilgere’s five-star collection Haywire, one of the best books of poetry I’ve ever read). That said, there’s not a single time when I encounter a poem like this, no matter what the rest of the book is like, where I’m not going to say “you need to run your butt out to the bookstore or the library and get your hands on a copy of this book right now if not sooner”:

“And here is Mr. Hat, the ski-pole-and-coat-hanger
scarecrow I devised, to remind the deer
that some among us will open our arms all night
in the right kind of light, and even smell
—and I am happy to see her laugh when I lift
the damp shirt to my nose to recognize myself.”
(–35, from “In the Garden with Margaret”)

That’s as cinematic, and as simple and beautiful, as anything you’re likely to find in a Jacques Demy film, no? And it somehow has that same air of naiveté/innocence about it. Even when Gildner moves into the territory of value-judgment words, it’s got that same air of childlike wonder that somehow makes them more acceptable. Maybe it’s the diction. “I am happy…”. Simple, again, and declarative.

A little over half the poems in this collection struck me that way, and that’s a pretty huge ratio in a poetry collection; if you haven’t already grasped it from what I’ve said here, this book is getting a strong recommendation from me, and the sooner you get yourself a copy, methinks, the happier a person you will be. I also don’t mean to imply that the rest of the collection is bad, the poems therein just lack that certain something that makes them explode into fireworks in my head.

“On clear nights, drifting off,
I sometimes tuck away stars
I am told are no longer there
though I see them.”
(–50, from “Delicately in Small Measure”)

It just seems more…prosaic, I guess, when I hear it in my head. Again, I emphasize I’m not saying it’s bad. It isn’t, it’s still quite good, and I’m still saying you need to go read this stuff, and fast. It’s just that sometimes, perhaps, Gildner is operating at 100%, and the rest of the time, we’ll say, 98%. A very good collection, this, and one that has me excited to read more of Gary Gildner’s work. *** ½

 

About Robert "Goat" Beveridge

Media critic (amateur, semi-pro, and for one brief shining moment in 2000 pro) since 1986. Guy behind noise/powerelectronics band XTerminal (after many small stints in jazz, rock, and metal bands). Known for being tactless but honest.

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