Matthew Rohrer, Destroyer and Preserver
Publisher: Wave Books
2011, 71 pages, paperback, $16
that daily ritual and random interruption make up life, measures by which we make meaning and the ultimate evidence of the temporariness of our existence, is a great irony, which Matthew Rohrer’s latest collection of poems explores. At the start, Rohrer acknowledges the dilemma of carving out meaning in a universe that is temporal, in a world obsessed with commodification:
cannot be found
in the middle that’s
a dream someone had
that our lives might
have meaning and not
just pop-up advertisements.
Thus the reader is launched into a series of voices and events concerned with the immediacy of incident.
The collection’s title, Destroyer and Preserver, an allusion to Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind,” stands to locate these divergent works in a complex of the relationship between physicality and consciousness, wherein human nature and the physical world are shown to be the mystery which the mind and heart seek to reconcile. Throughout the work, Rohrer revisits the images of ghosts, stars, clouds, and water, objects that appear in flux as though they are part illusion. Poems use limited punctuation and hinge on complicated line breaks stressing the brokenness of language, challenging fluidity while simultaneously embodying the emotional distance expressed in many of the pieces as in “Poem for Starlings”:
How come the body
rejects the medicine when
it is good no
one knows no one
has ever come back
to tell us if
it hurts everyone is
worried they’ll raise taxes
With a lack of sentimentality but abundance of sincerity, Rohrer draws his readers into poems keenly infused with pop culture references and pathos. The unassuming nature of a line like “come home and be my blanket” in “Two Hours of Crying” is the very thing that makes a Rohrer poem so engaging. There is an understood earnestness in the poet’s voice, a confidence between writer and reader, so that when one arrives at the statement, “I am a dream a black obelisk dreams / & forgets. I haven’t / put much thought into it. I just feel good,” there is no questioning of reasoning, but an acceptance of the mingling of knowing and unknowing in a single moment.
The poet’s dexterity at recounting personal narrative by providing raw confession tendered with wit inspires empathy in the reader, as in “Ghost,” an examination of personal isolation within a world saturated with objects and beings:
I do not belong to anything but books
which is very sad,
I want to kiss someone
the whole world is asleep
Rohrer’s slight of the pen, his adeptness at implicating himself, allows the reader to commiserate with the speaker of each poem and is what makes this collection an enjoyable journey to make. There is a certain joy found in the embrace of irony that makes these declarations of solitude the most relatable assertions resounding with humanity.
Gathering in the ordinary object, the mundane event, and common language, then examining it all from the tempestuous climate of the collective American consciousness, Rohrer builds poems around the refuse of everyday life with all its convolutions:
I’ve been studying minutiae
for the past twenty years—in the public
baths—of the American inferno—
Unfolding the paranoia and piecemeal psychosis of a society in a search for understanding from the inside, Rohrer makes the most of introspection and honest haphazard response to the demands of community that ranges from apathy to zealous enthusiasm. He observes that “everyone wants everything / to be perfect,” but that people are imperfect, thus life is rich in expectation and surprise:
the choice to do something
stupid or sit in a chair
everyone leaps up
These poems depict a broad spectrum of experience and emotional response that works to unite and divide people.
Rohrer’s private reflections illustrate the tension found in ordinary experience with a sympathetic look at human interaction, isolation, and causality in the lives of individuals. His empathetic eye yields a collection of poems wrought with small revelations made evident through descriptions of quiet beauty. With fragmented glimpses into a variety of people and experiences filtered through the lens of broken language and syntactical play, the work of this collection is accomplished with a refreshing air of artistry.