Review: Loneliness Is the Machine That Drives the World
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Review originally published on 6/21/16
How does it feel when you extinguish a life
and hold their last echo in your paws?
Our society has been called many things, blamed for the high level of consumerism and growing individualism that borders on narcissism. In his poetry collection, Loneliness Is the Machine That Drives the World, Grant Tarbard proposes to look at society as being the victim of something that initially seems contradictory, given the vast technological networks surrounding us today: the sense of isolation and creeping loneliness. The title of the collection captures perfectly the way in which the definition of loneliness has been redefined, no longer a natural reaction as much as it is a label that one is expected to explain and justify.
Deterioration, chaos, and panic are central to this collection of poems that presents a landscape dotted with familiar features. The opening poem, “Coffee Futures,” sets the tone by demonstrating how something as simple as brewing and drinking coffee can serve as a gateway into the emotional realm by inviting a touch of the surreal into it. An assemblage made of dead rats, an “analysis” of the New York skyline, and a snapshot of a honeysuckle are just some of the places these poems take their reader, while others strive to reach further, extending to the stars, the past and the future. It’s impressive how vast a territory is covered in these poems, always making sure they stay grounded in familiar aspects of one’s everyday life.
The strong point of this collection is the dazzling imagery, some of which heightens the tension from previous lines, with others coming across as individual, isolated fragments. One of my favorite lines from the collection came from a poem that was a series of individual, disjointed fragments:
rob spiders of their life;
the commandments don’t apply to those who scuttle
(from “I’ll Be No-One Again”).
Another memorable image from a poem about a thunderstorm instead served as an introductory point upon which the rest of the poem rested, giving it a whimsical quality:
One learns the brush strokes of lightning are
months in a funnel chamber, trying to catch
a beautiful song.
(from “Once the Thunder Has Passed”).
These images exemplify the fleeting moments of beauty in the very chaos and mess that surrounds us on a daily basis, exemplified by the fluctuations, the ups and downs in the flow of the poems throughout the collection. Just when you think there is a moment to take a breather and enjoy a nonetheless melancholy scene of a merry-go-round, for instance, the collection picks up once again; shaking things up, for lack of a better term.
Yet, there is something missing in these poems, something that I initially struggled with singling out. Perhaps this is merely personal preference, but I found that, while the words and images of the poems were captivating, they didn’t entirely manage to go beyond being just beautiful fragments and thoughts. The poems chart the disorder and chaos, and even make me feel like I was standing all alone in the middle of this verbal vortex, but there was rarely a chance to go beyond it or to fully understand how to transcend these words. There was no clear, strong narrative voice that would bring the reader in, something that I tend to prefer in poetry collections — something that makes me feel like I’m being spoken to, rather than spoken around, as was the case in this collection.
Loneliness Is the Machine That Drives the World does a great job in getting its idea and sentiment, as well as the complexities of the title, across in its poems, perhaps doing that too well. The poems certainly leave an impression in the process of reading, but it was difficult to go back and look at only the titles of the poems, trying to remember what individual poems made me think or feel. They do, ultimately, leave you feeling rather lonely and, in my case, made me want to reach for another book that I could settle cozily into. For those who are looking to be swept away in the thrill and wonder of the moment, this collection will be perfect. Others, looking for a slightly less chaotic journey and an omniscient speaker, may have more difficulty with this collection, although the intricacies of the imagery are sure to please both types of readers.