One of the best decisions I made last fall was to go to the Albion College Student Farm to make candles. Why? It’s not because I stood with my love next to a hot fire under a cold sky or because I watched my kiddo watch hot wax harden and thicken and take on its candle shape, though I am glad both those things happened. It’s because of a question Jake and Angie DeCola asked me.
Here’s the question: have you read Dan Albergotti’s poems?
I hadn’t, but soon I would.
Their question sent me in search of Dan’s poems, poems he will read aloud tomorrow night in the Wendell Will Room.
By the time I got his book in the mail, I knew a bit about what to expect. Jake and Angie had told me that he (Dan) loved poet Jack Gilbert, a love I (and many others) share. I had also poked around on fishhouse.org, a website that showcases new poets, and found some of his words, all of them quite lovely.
Even still I was unprepared for some of the poems that make up the pages of his beautiful book The Boatloads. He does in his poems something that I love: he goes inside the minds and selves of literary characters and bids them to speak, to speak again.
In one of my favorites, Dan gives voice to Cain whose brother Abel lies dead at his hands. In Dan’s lines, the Biblical character whose inner life is not subject to much description in the Book of Genesis finds harrowing expression:
When I lifted that sheep’s skull to the sky
and brought it down on my brother’s head,
I was just being the rough beast that the Lord had made me.
My God, my god—He sowed deep that hard seed
of death. I merely reaped its dark read fruit.
The cry “My God, my God” seems both a plea and an accusation, a cry of longing and of anger. In that cry, I feel as though I hear a deep voice—Cain’s voice, yes, but also a voice that lives somewhere inside me, maybe inside all of us.
I am not sure why I love so much poems that give voice to characters whom others have created: I think it has something to do with my own enduring belief that literary characters are real. Their being the product of imagination does not lessen their reality for me, and when poets like Dan or Jack Gilbert or Wallace Stevens, whose poems Dan has clearly read and loves, take up those characters, I feel as though I am given greater access to their fullness and so to my own and to those around me.
I hope you will join us at Dan’s reading tomorrow at 5pm in the Wendell Will Room. There you may hear a humor and lightness that do not characterize “Testimony” but do characterize so many of his poems. There you may hear the many characters of our literary past speak in voices that are, thanks to him, so present. It promises to be a lovely night.