Alone Together: David Landrum's The Impossibility of Epithalamia

Robbi Nester

    At its best, poetry fuses the obscure and the immediate, the exotic and the domestic. David Landrum’s chapbook, The Impossibility of Epithalamia, published by White Violet Press (2012), focuses on this fusion of the quotidian and the extraordinary. Though this is a chapbook and not a full-length collection, its richness of language and breadth of subject make it feel much larger.

   Landrum explores one theme—the essential solitude of every human being—from various perspectives, that of the Crooked Man of nursery rhyme fame, the Greek poet Sappho, Augustine’s rejected lover, etc. Even those poems that might be autobiographical,  such as “Winter” or “Photograph, Easter Sunday , 1956,” meld the contemporary with the historical and/or mythological.  Note for example the aforementioned “Photograph…,” in which Landrum revisits a moment of the narrator’s personal past, when a family divided by divorce had been mended for a miraculous moment captured in this photograph. The poem casts this moment in terms of a more general American history by describing the photo’s setting “[in] front of our Buick Roadmaster/with the grill that looked like Teddy Roosevelt’s teeth.” Later in that same poem, apropos of the holiday that creates the occasion for the photograph, the appearance of the long-lost father is compared to the return of the resurrected Jesus before his disciples, soon to be martyred themselves.

  Even when the topics of the poem are ostensibly mythological, as in “Advice to A Son,” or “The Crooked Man Speaks,” the everyday is blended seamlessly into the mix. For example, in “Advice to a Son” a father schools his young son on how to avoid the pitfalls of marriage. However, this is not quite the advice we might expect, as the father advises that his son steer clear altogether of human females, declaring, “If you would marry, marry a dryad—/one with dark green skin and nappy hair.”

  Perhaps as we might expect of a book by this title, relationships between human beings are frail and fallible. Even in the early stages of a relationship, like that described in “Philadelphia,” the poet sees always with the eyes of experience, aware of the inevitable falling away and failure that is surely to come. This is perhaps why, as the title poem asserts, “[i]t is absurd to write [epithalamia].” Yet, paradoxically, in the process of asserting this, Landrum is of course writing such a poem.

  Relationships, this poet finds, may even be harmful to the beloved. Note the poem “Moth,” where the speaker addresses a rare specimen destroyed by his eager effort to possess and protect it:

I kept you safe from spider webs

set treacherously in spaces

where the moon is dim;

gave you sanctuary from lepidopterists

who would have impaled and encased

your curious beauty.

But the scars I made on you will never heal.

Your wings bear alien patterns.

My fingerprints are molded to your flight.

 

  Even though the would-be insect lover carefully collects the desired object of his admiration, with the full intention of protecting it from other, less-well intentioned collectors, he still creates “scars [that] will never heal” on its delicate wings, imprinting them with his own “alien patterns.”

  It is a feat for a small but wide-ranging collection of poems to maintain such an inherent consistency, creating a kind of narrative on the topic. Add to this the work’s formal sophistication, and this makes the book a rare find well worth seeking out.

  Landrum, like the majority of poets published by White Violet Press, generally writes in fixed forms or at least possesses a deep knowledge of them. Yet his rhymes are never cloying or coy and his use of forms seems, for the most part, entirely organic. See, for instance, the fascinating “Abecedarian,” written in “an ancient poetic form guided by alphabetical order. Generally each line or stanza begins with the first letter of the alphabet and is followed by the successive letter, until the final letter is reached” (Poets.org). The poem moves from the evocation-- “Alchemists break cruses defiantly”-- to the epigram-- “Whorish xenophobia yields zealots.”  As this poem shows, Landrum is never showy in his use of form, diction, or fact, but always engaging and amusing. His store of knowledge informs the work and enriches the reader, who learns much from these poems.

  Though this is hardly Landrum’s debut work, he is new to me, as I think he will be to others as well. It is a good day when one makes discoveries of such writers. I recommend him to you, as I do the entire rich world of small press poetry.

The Impossibility of Epithalamia
By David W. Landrum
CreateSpace, 2012
ISBN-13: 978-1466406599

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