Review of Dee Rimbaud’s Dropping Ecstasy with the Angels by Sarah Miller
Dee Rimbaud’s Dropping Ecstasy with the Angels is a dark collection of suicide and other deaths, incoherency and insanity, and drug-altered states. The book moves relentlessly from poem to poem; few readers will read this in a single sitting. Many of the poems are inescapably dark, offering no hope of redemption, as in “First Cut,” which ends:
I lost the Gods in the land of long shadows,
In the underground Absinthe bars
Where the forgotten drink poisonous dreams
And are doomed to tear themselves apart
On the ragged shards of wretched dawn, forever on.
Some poems offer a guarded watchfulness, a belief that something new will come, as in “Late Autumn”:
He hugs himself tight:
Waiting for the storm to pass
And for the sun to re-emerge,
Vibrant and warm, at last.
And a cautious few poems imagine a better world, without the pain and mistakes that trap everyone now, as in “The Apple of My Eye,” in which a father yearns to “re-make the sun” for his daughter and undo the pain he caused her.
The poems themselves are a somewhat maddening collection of horridly cliché lines and vibrant, refreshing images—sometimes within the same poem, sometimes between poems. For instance, “Stealing Heaven from the Lips of God” rips into the Prometheus myth with the enjoyable order to “Steal fire from Prometheus / And spit in the eyes / Of scavaging birds” but ends with the wretched advice to “Find a road / That’s never been travelled. // And always quit / While you’re still ahead.”—platitudes better suited to graduation cards than poetry. Some poems can be skipped entirely, such as “A Beautiful Chemistry,” in which the meaning of love and life are found in the galaxies of a girl’s eyes. But these poems are more than balanced by poems such as “No Daisies,” about a grandmother’s grave. “No Daisies” avoids overt reflection on death and loss and focuses instead on the specific effects of drought:
Even the lichen, crusted on your headstone
Has withered: dry and dusty,
It crumbles to my finger
Which traces the weathered letters
Of your name.
“No Daisies” trusts the reader to follow where the poet/narrator is leading and stands out as one of the strongest pieces of the collection for that reason.
The overall tone of the book is reflective and introspective; the myriad narrators are often focusing on a shadowy, vast life (or afterlife). The introspection is almost inevitable, given the dark subject matter of the poems. The poems also often seem to be reaching for a type of universality; how well this succeeds will depend on how well the reader reacts to abstract concepts in poems.
But Rimbaud’s poems shift constantly, and so even the most imagistic readers will find moments of connections in the poems, such as the intriguing tarot card image in “Asylum Antechamber”:
We wander arm in arm
Like two senile old men
Shuffling through a tarot deck
Of blanked out cards:
All meaning wiped clean
From dusty, indecipherable slates.
In their strongest moments, the poems balance between concrete image and narrative introspection, as in the first stanza of “An Epitaph”:
[...] I’m told the lupus tore the petals
From the flower that was your face: that your smile shrivelled
To a dry parody of itself; and that you never laughed again.
I cannot imagine you, submissive, lying down
On the railway track, waiting for the train
That would take you away from us all.
Dropping Ecstasy asks a reader to step into the world of suicides, drug addicts, and everyday individuals contemplating a world that isn’t reasonable, isn’t bright, and certainly isn’t ending happily ever after. It will make many readers uncomfortable—not a bad thing, by any means—but most readers will also find in it poems and passages that speak strongly to them and will draw them back to reread and rethink.
Paper and PDF, 114 pages