Saturday, July 16, 2011

Charity and Fantasy ("Dreamlife of a Philanthropist" Book Review) by Alison Ross

When one hears the word philanthropy, what comes to mind is wealthy patrons bestowing money on charitable or arts organizations. But of course, that's entirely too pedestrian an evocation in Janet Kaplan's world, and so in her latest book of prose poems and "prose sonnets," philanthropists have more subversively quirky aims. In particular, the titular character dreams of people becoming fish.

And so it goes with these cerebral and surreal gems. The visual artist that is most compatibly paired with Kaplan's minimalistic style that nonetheless teems with mystifying and mystique-laden language, is Renee Magritte. Somehow the poesie in this collection summons the whimsically haunting dreamscapes rendered by the Belgian painter. Indeed, Kaplan is mischievously inventive with her imagery and wordplay, and each verse-universe she constructs proffers the kind of distorted logic so lovingly cultivated in, say, Lewis Carroll's absurdist dystopian-utopias.

As far as the enigmatic title goes - the juxtaposition of a word that encompasses lush hallucinatory connotations with a more stoical term is definite indication of the incongruity these poems straddle.

For example, in Enterprise, she writes, "The quiet doubling of the clouds. I fasten in and watch a rising plume of stars. They flash like jagged teeth. They throb. My lieutenant uncrosses his legs, folds his hands over his crotch. It's Wednesday back at home, the dog is barking at the pines. There is source and destination, a kitchen's domestic logic."

Here, there is dream and there is domesticity - the ethereal and the terrestial merge.

Or in the prose sonnet, Change, she enumerates: "Organic bomber planes, zucchini flowers, captions," and then observes: "All of it blurry, a Seurat that never comes clear, no matter how far in the future one stands."

Again, we have dream-logic twined with more earthly matters.

Perhaps Kaplan is our linguistic philanthropist - rich with dreamlife, and charitable with innovative imagery and ideas which burst forth from her untamed fantasies.

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