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by Richard Milazzo

Collages by Daniel Rothbart

Tsukuda Island Press / Publication date: July 2024 Price: $27.00 paperback / ? Pages / ISBN: ? Available at Amazon.com and various other book vendors edgewisepress.org

Since both the writer, Richard Milazzo (who cannot bear the nomenclature ‘poet’ in what he calls a world of Global Corporate Imperialism, and who prefers to see himself simply as a ‘cultural traveler’), and the artist, Daniel Rothbart (a sculptor – whom one might even describe as a secular Buddhist, at least in spirit – who, in this book, insinuates his rather enigmatic forms into appropriated antique postcard and postcard-like imagery), have written texts about each other in More Fugitive Than Light: Poems of Rome, Venice, Paris, 2016-2017, it only makes sense to quote their opinions about each other’s works in this collaboration, both of whom have a particular propensity and appreciation for this delicate art of negotiation (a.k.a collaboration), even where it tests the asymptotic thresholds or half-science of aesthetic tolerance.

           About Rothbart’s collages, the author writes: “Here is the central question pertaining to a body of work, not only to Daniel Rothbart’s collages in this book but to his work in general, which intentionally appears to have no center, no centralized iconic signifier or meaning: what is the significance of these entities, these creatures, made of aluminum and found glass orbs which have broken away from Japanese fishermen’s nets on the other side of the world and floated across the ocean to our Pacific shores here in the U.S., and which, when coupled together, seem to float, to fly, in and out of multiple worlds, like satellites orbiting, intervening upon, innumerable galaxies, without leaving any trace of a stable signified? Are they bracketing peripheries without centers or centers without peripheries? Because, as Yeats once put it, ‘the center does not’ and will ‘not hold,’ or because Rothbart is asking the related question Rilke once asked in one of his magisterial but mystery-driven elegies: ‘Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angelic orders? And even if one of them suddenly deigned to press me against his heart, I should fade in the strength of his stronger existence. For beauty’s nothing but the beginning of terror we’re still just able to bear.’”

           And here is what the artist has written about the author’s verses: “His texts traverse cultural, geographic, temporal, ideological and political boundaries, united by a unique sensibility and informed by a multidimensional relationship with language. His passion for the printed word encompasses not only his well-known work as a curator, critic of contemporary art, and independent scholar, but also the literary forms he utilizes in his verse: what he has called in the past, his ‘story and history poems’ and his ‘faux sonnets.’ The published oeuvre reflects his fascination with diverse cultures, skirting a love-hate relationship with his native New York City and embracing many of the storied cities of Europe, such as Paris and Venice, and such Far Eastern destinations as Saigon, Phnom Penh, Seoul, Tokyo and Kyoto.

        “However, Richard does not romanticize distant cultures but writes about his chosen subjects with empathy and pathos. Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and the death camps of Eastern Europe are never far from his consciousness, and he perceives them as an ever-present reality. If Shelley wrote that ‘Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar,’ then our author’s verses are also devoted to lifting the veil hiding the unseemliness of these darker worlds of humanity (he seems to think there are many, one around every corner), and fearlessly familiarizing us with them.

           “It is in the spirit of this bleak context that the author urges us to take the words of the emblem at the beginning of this book to heart: ‘About the light we know a little; but what about the darkness at the end of the tunnel, the tenderness dying, even as it inundates us, condemned as we are to repeat it as an existential mantra given to us as if by the Book of the Dead?’ A mantra that seems to echo J. Robert Oppenheimer’s infamous words ‘Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds’ from the Bhagavad Gita.”

           More Fugitive Than Light contains two introductory essays and 68 collages which endeavor to mirror the verses in an analogical manner. There is nothing faint-hearted here about the verses or the collages, however much they may strike us as profoundly romantic and even spiritual in character. About Rothbart’s work, in general, Wayne Koestenbaum writes: “Rothbart is a master of serene, coruscating surfaces, and of the depths they hide; artificer, flâneur, ruminator, wanderer, scholar, he seems not to inhabit contemporary time, but to dwell in several temporalities simultaneously, like Spinoza astrally projecting himself into the lithe body of a Situationist, then backtracking to star in Ben-Hur, and plummeting even farther netherward to glide on the never-drowning Raft of the Medusa.”

      Rothbart writes: “I think Richard’s fear that he will prove to be a ‘jack of all trades, [but] a master of none’ is utterly unjustified. But even if the worst were to transpire, which I’m sure he believes is his fate, what we should remember is this phrase was originally invented to criticize the actor-turned-playwright, William Shakespeare! Not bad company, even if eventually even Will will be thrown under the bus of political correctness and cancel culture, and this portion of the canon, too, will be cancelled, and Will decanonized.”

TSUKUDA ISLAND PRESS

HAYAMA – TOKYO

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