- Paperback: 96 pages
- Publisher: Red Hen Press; 1st edition (February 1, 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1597094463
- ISBN-13: 978-1597094467
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.4 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 7 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,957,469 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Ship of Fool Paperback – February 1, 2011
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This book consists primarily of poems about a character based on the fool archetype, which appears not only in silents and standups (e.g. Keaton, Pryor, Woody Allen) but also in tales running back to the beginning of storytelling. To borrow from Yiddish comedy, he is a combination of schlemiel and schlimazel. The difference is that the schlemiel is a bungler who's always accidentally breaking things and spilling stuff on people and the schlimazel is a sad sack who's always getting his things broken and getting stuff spilled on him. My Fool is both. He is often treated harshly, which seems to come simply from his being a fool. Most fool figures, though “comic,” are subjected to a great deal of violence. The very term "slapstick" derives from this.
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I've read Ship of Fool several times over the past week, and it has been a terrific pleasure; these poems are lean, funny, ruefully true, richly figurative, and technically flawless. I've probably read "Fool and His Money" six times. One of the things that's chiefly impressive here is the relationship between line and syntax: stretching a plain-spoken, but musically impressive sentence across the rack of a metered or quasi-metrical line, employing as few prepositions and other cloggers as possible without being conspicuous or weirdly Hopkins-like. It creates this lurchy, tortured music that is characteristic of American speech but also redeems those important parts of the English formal tradition which connect, say, Frost to Wordsworth. Poems like "Flight of the Fool, 1902," for instance, are worth reading not just for the chilling content or even for the voice alone, but for the FORMAL thing, the way the poet makes a sentence spin out with absolute inevitibility while, at the same time, managing to flirt with, allude to, and sometimes downright commit to tetrameter, with brushstrokes and shades and daubs of rhyme against a colorful background of alliterative talk. Which I mean in the most impressive way: the style, taken as a whole, is transparent; you just don't notice, right off at least, how you are being shaped and guided formally and how that creates so much of the poems' heartbreaking closures and fireworks. That's where, to digress, the poetry wars figure in so importantly. There's all this free-versy aesthetic liberalism that's like a parade of unattractive people sacheting around a nudist beach, or making no sense or little for the sake of sound, or "atmosphere" or whatever they're calling it now, that has no energy precisely because there's not a true and proven, workable tradition anymore. Too many strands of influence across a short history and with the age of the towering greats (Lowell, Frost, Moore, Eliot not to mention Dickinson and Whitman) receding so far behind us that many poets have a hard time tracing their pedigrees anymore. On the other hand, you've got these "new" formalists, and it's like their writing is just empty style, like a bucket with no water in it (New Formalists, Language poets: twin sides of a wooden nickel, to paraphrase J. D. McClatchy)--it is, at worst, to formal poetry what "translationese" sounds like (think Bly's translations of Spanish poets on for size, or of Rilke) in the world of translation. But what Trowbridge seems to be doing is taking from everyone big: there's Berryman (the Henry persona), there's Frost (formal elegance, the ability to make the glass slipper of English tradition fit over the calloused sole of American speech), there's Nemerov of course (the wry, biting humor and the peculiarly postmodern American vision), and on top of it all there's Whitman, the democratic bard who sings of all things great and small, relishing lists of deliciously American things; he would recognize himself in Trowbridge's catalogs of things like "Payne's Dentistry" and many other such collisions of Norman Rockwell with Heironymus Bosch. All this is to say, the poet here has a foot planted in both hemispheres so to speak, and that's where the good artists are going to be from our country. You can't turn your back on uppity ole' mother England and her gorgeous tongue, but you can't forget there was once a wilderness, too, and people like Walt Whitman strolling around naming everything like Adam. Or even the characteristically American incendiary metaphors of Dickinson, really, who has managed to sneak English formal tradition (however crude the old fourteener is) through the backdoor of American poetry. Unfortunately, those who have carried that tradition forward haven't always remembered to wipe their feet when they came into the house, and that British mud is hard to get out. These poems, formally, strike a balance that preserves and respects the long tradition while allying itself with a thoroughly American voice and vision. And, of course, there's the tradition of satire from Pope to Twain that I won't even go into here because I've said enough. Anyway, I've rambled a lot here because Ship of Fools has gotten me looking at how Trowbridge works his lines formally, and it's impressive. I'd recommend reading this book a bunch of times, for the humor, the unflinching look at humanity, and the no-frills formal touch. An excellent read and re-read.
It's rare for me to find a poet that I really like. That's not because there aren't plenty of good ones out there, it's just that most of what they have to say goes over my head. It's my problem, not theirs. I've always like Robert Frost - who doesn't? Today is a day for firsts, though, and I can now say I've got a favorite poet. His name is William Trowbridge, and his latest collection, Ship of Fool, is absolutely brilliant.
I was around for one of his live readings prior to the book's release. Bill read several Fool poems from his upcoming collection. I was captivated, entertained, and left wanting more. I laughed, hard; I pondered my own foolishness, and I immediately made my way to the merch table to get my hands on something with Bill's name on it. This is poetry that anyone can relate to, because everyone's a fool...at least two times a week. But it goes deeper than antics and slapstick imagery, much deeper. It's smart and unbelievably clever; you'll find yourself re-reading and re-reading most of them.
There are plenty of you out there who hear the word poetry and run. Don't do it! Ship of Fool is brimming with poetry that EVERY reader can enjoy.