If there is a place where time stands still, where raindrops hang motionless in midair—could only a poem with meter and rhyme can evoke the dimensions of that place? Timothy Steele would answer yes.
The Color Wheel is about time: time measured by meter and rhyme, time moving within and through each poetic environment, despite the fact that these places are not temporal. The collection unfolds aware of the future, alert to the present, enduring the past. Steele is courageous in his plausible, old-fashioned, and cleansing formality. This collection will age well.
Time is never lost. The poems open and close; they do not begin and end. Time is a nonlinear engine that generates power and the meaning in each poem. These poems are sequences of spatial environments within which time beats and repeats the circular rituals of the rhyme schemes. Time also measures the intervals between the sequences. It is the sequential intervals, with the aid of rhythm and rhyme, that draw the beholder’s attention. Steele is describing a common ground, a color wheel—a collective consciousness in which time sequences are sensed. The sequences may be quick or slow, dim or intense, salty or sweet, causal or acausal, orderly or random, depending on not the poet, but the reader. Time does not exist outside human perception and is therefore not there to lose, but rather is there as a sense. In order to communicate what he knows, Steele uses sequences of words spoken in metered measures. Events in his poems are triggered by other events.
Each of the poems has four dimensions: its own, two from the author, and the reader’s. Each poem’s own dimension is its “body time,” its growth, its resonant image. One of the author’s dimensions is mechanical, usually imposed, sometimes discovered time. The other author’s dimension is the range frame of the poem. “You” is the fourth dimension, as is true in any nonlinear setting. The reader senses or receives self-serving “knowledge” from the other three dimensions of each poem.
The rhythms are sequential, subtle, the rhymes incremental, nuanced. Meter gives the rhymes texture. One poem waltzes, while another is more baroque. Rhymes give rhythms color. This one and that one are both red, but she is alluring and smoky, while the other is a rosy-cheeked little girl talking to an imaginary friend in a hallway.
Unfortunately, the subtleties, nuances, textures and colors of these poems are not often consoling. Absolutes are rare to Steele, and absolutes are consoling. Passion, too, is consoling. Steele is too smooth to be called passionate. Perhaps his one consolation is his expertise. As a poet, he is an adept. He does doubt; he broods; he rejoices; he is not erratic; he is a professorial poet. The spurs that make the poems go here (instead of there) linger as though between the lines. In some poems the spur is the ever-present soft smile of the author’s manipulations at making the poem “happen,” as in “For My Sister”:
Though time is shifting into overdrive,
And the years pass more quickly, even here,
It’s not surprising that you’ve made a harbor
In this damp chilly evening, where you harbor
The sense not to be driven or to drive.
Patience itself will make the world cohere.
In others, such as “Aurora,” a certain volatility smolders in the too-clever use of words:
Your sleep is so profound
This room seems a recess
Gauze curtains, drawn around
The postered bed, confute
Each waking attribute—
Volition, movement, sound.
To Steele’s credit, his causes and effects lie deep under waves of yearning for the synchronicity between the dharma of a moment and its rhyme scheme or synchronicity between the karma of a poem and its natural meter. The poems transmit the faint ache that what the author sees, hears, and wants to say will dance to a natural, spiritual lyric. That hope is there, but it is not often...
(The entire section is 1640 words.)