Search This Blog

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Wells of Night: The Prophetic, Ecstatic, Utterly Compelling Poetry of Gabriel Blanchard

Wells of Night: A collection of verse by [Blanchard, Gabriel]In The Figure of Beatrice: A Study in Dante the poet, novelist, and philosopher Charles Williams has the following to say about Dante's account Beatrice as an image of Divine love:
The divine beauty of this most gracious being appeared in her speech and her acts. But it also appeared in the different members of her body. The body 'has organs for almost all the powers' of man; and these organs were, for Dante, of a nature as everlasting as his desire for God; they were indeed part of his desire for God: 'the organs of the body', says the Paradiso, 'shall be strong for all that means delight.' Dante himself did not go far in the analysis of the human body itself; much there remains to be done.
In Wells of Night Gabriel Blanchard has moved that project forward another step.

This collection of poetry, described by the publisher as a place where "Homoeroticism, Catholic mysticism, philosophy, and fantasy are blended" is swollen with meaning and with the soul of its author. To read the volume is to come into shocking—by turns terrifying, compelling, whimsical, and devastating—contact with Blanchard's soul. For those of us who read poetry in order to experience the deep being of another person, Wells of Night is all that we could ask.

The book is divided into four sections consisting of sonnets, elegies, lyrical work, and one extended fairy tale in verse. Throughout, Blanchard's felicity with the language and with his source material (Færy Ball is a veritable banquet of classic færy lore) will certainly delight. He uses English like a paintbrush or a flute. The art is nearly always delicate, intricate, and usually voluptuous; the book is well worth reading for the quality of the language alone.

But Blanchard goes well beyond the virtues of aesthetic language in this book—he offers a vulnerability so naked and so piercing as to make the reader fall in love and shy back in terror at nearly the same time. Wells of Night is Blanchard's particular humanity displayed through curtains of eloquence.

Image result for Christ in the Wilderness Iwan
Christ in the Wilderness - Iwan Kramskoi
For myself I was most moved, and am most haunted, by his poem The Adoration of the Image of God the piece in which he most directly takes up Williams' charge quoted above (though he contributes in a number of his other pieces as well). The poem reads, in many ways, like a post-coital ode to a lover. Blanchard takes a meditation on a male body and works the reader, organ by organ, though the ways in which this distinct, ever-person, man in front of him is a mystic window into the character of God; the meditation is summed up (but not concluded) with the lines

Masculine maculate immaculate glory
Incarnate archetype
and then, called by his own exquisite sensibility and iron honesty he crushes and recreates the entire poem in four final lines of resurrection and death. For Blanchard, his own poem seems to reflect a grace too real to deny and too terrible to survive. I am convinced that in this poem, a gay Catholic has shown me, a straight Anabaptist, aspects of God in the body of a man I cannot know. The object of his meditation is a window into the Divine which is of the same type as Beatrice and yet utterly distinct from her. Once comes away convinced that, without a gay man to tell us about it, this would be an aspect of God, the rest of us might never know. The poem needs to be read for itself so I will not try to convince you, but Blanchard has shown me a picture of God which, two weeks ago, I would have said I could not experience, and he has wept bitterly while giving his gift.

And still, ever the full orbed, near transparent creator, Blanchard refused to make this work into a simple, monochrome study of the darkness. As the night sky has stars, Wells of Night has Færy Ball, a narrative piece which manages to obey every rule of the pre-modern legendarium, presented in the idiom of the best of the romantics and so full of archetypal story blended with human and divine nobility that I found myself crying for joy while reading it.
Image result for stars
If this makes you want to dance, then read Færy Ball

No comments:

Post a Comment