Einstein's Brain by Richard Cecil. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1986, xx + 78 pp., $7.95.
The poems in Einstein's Brain-- with the exception of the love poems--portray an introverted vision of the world which is difficult to share. "What Cheer, Iowa" is a good example. The experience of place is superficial, and a glance from the window of a train yields only self-engrossed revelation:
I would lean against this window
sick to death of travel, and stare
at those same twelve houses in the rain,
relieved that none would take me in.
The same preoccupation controls the vision in "Venice":
electric yoyo salesmen in the square
and private speedboats hogging the canals
doomed, seemed not as doomed as this landscape.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
between my pretty past and fading present
an ugly ugly ugly ugly future,
trying to choose. . .
Reader, I went nowhere.
There is no arguing with a writer's vision, but there is a question here of purpose and trust. I depend on poets to open the world, not to close it, and being well acquainted with both Venice, Italy, and small town Iowa, I know there is more than the author took time to see. In Einstein's Brain , self-absorption is masked as alienation.
But it is not only narrow vision and doleful diction that create a sense of introversion in this work. Cecil has chosen poetic forms to the same end. There is an aubade--traditionally a dawn song, a parting of lovers--in which the persona of the poet is the only human character. And, there are threnodies for both sunset and sunrise--lamentations at both ends of the day.
In contrast, Cecil's sense of sound and the riverine quality of his language are felicitous. In part three especially--where one finds the best poems of the book--these qualities of sound and motion emerge. Half rhymes and oblique rhymes abound, creating lines that are a delight to read aloud:
intent on slivers of the melody,
oboists and kettle drummers play
or poise above their instruments,
inattentive to the violins.
Everyone is staring at the rostrum
Joseph Brodsky has said that "throughout one's life, time addresses man in a variety of languages . . ." (Less Than One 44-45). Einstein's Brain records Cecil's language of fatigue and cynicism. His attempt to lead us to the universal from this personal vision does not work. Where we arrive is not a place we believe in or even perceive.
Still, given Cecil's sense of sound and motion, it would be a loss if we did not have his work, and one looks forward to the broadening of his vision to match his gifts of language.