Joe Rosenblatt Essay - Critical Essays

Rosenblatt, Joe


Rosenblatt, Joe 1933–

Rosenblatt is lauded by critics as one of Canada's most imaginative poets for his fantasies exploring the secret world of insects, animals, and plant life. Rosenblatt, who is thematically concerned with innocence versus sin, says of his work, "My poems never devour the reader; instead, by the use of comic situations, they anesthetize him." He has recently begun illustrating his own work and also edits Jewish Dialog, a literary quarterly. Rosenblatt won the Governor General's Award in 1976 for Top Soil. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 89-92.)

Fred Cogswell

The first four parts of Winter of the Luna Moth demonstrate the truth of the adage, "one touch of nature makes the whole world kin." The similarity between fish, birds, bats, pigs, insects, etc., and human beings with respect to alimentation, reproduction, growth, and death is used to transfer human values and attributes to the world of our finned, furred, feathered, and scaled partners in life on the planet. Such a transfer possesses two poetical advantages. It enables the poet to support his belief in the one-ness of all life, however ugly or beautiful; and it provides him with a fresh vocabulary and an original set of images with which to adorn his work.

The poet's world is the familiar one of the disillusioned idealist—a world in which beauty and nobility are threatened or ruined by the greed of predators, but the expression is anything but familiar; at its most extreme form it is Browningesque grotesque…. At its best, it is fine-textured verse that moves with effortless ease…. (p. 71)

[Part Five, "A Hall of Mirrors,"] is Joe Rosenblatt's most ambitious poem, and a creditable one at that. But, to me, it does not succeed so well as "The Bee Hive (An elegy to Che Guevera)". As one reads this minor masterpiece, one realizes that all the cleverness and the amalgam of fish, moth, bat, pig, etc., with human in the work which had gone before had been apprentice work, leading up to this apparently effortless fusion in which an event in contemporary history takes its place in the perspective of the twin hives of religious symbol and human society.

Winter of the Luna Moth, while sometimes jarring with too heavy rhythyms, too obvious alliteration, and too Joycean attempts at punning, is all the same an original, ambitious, and impressive book of poems, and a reviewer is quite safe in saying that Joe Rosenblatt has in this work found himself as a poet. (p. 72)

Fred Cogswell, "One Touch of Nature," in Canadian Literature, No. 40, Spring, 1969, pp. 71-2.∗

Douglas Barbour

Joe Rosenblatt's Winter of the Luna Moth, is [an] … interesting if somewhat flawed, book. Rosenblatt has a weird sense of humour and a strange ear for puns. His poems run the gamut of language, from the gutter to a medieval hymnary, while he acts as a word-alchemist, changing nouns to verbs, adjectives to nouns, and so on. But far too often they fail to reach a destination, leaving one with some brilliant lines, and occasional lovely verses, but seldom a complete poem. The ideas and images are often exciting, but they stand apart from the poems in which they appear. When he does get everything working together, however, the results are unique:

        Fernanda, you teach my touch new breath—
        opossum micing my senses in music opuses;
        O, I grew a love root opposite—
        glands gleed locust of mole cricketing;
        is multinudes of moth in milch flood.

The animals which fill the poems live only in the universe of Rosenblatts's brain—live and love, as in "How Mice Make Love", one of the finest poems in the book, where the poet creates a total image of miniaturized love that is pure and joyful in its precise intensity. The final poem, "A Hall of Mirrors", is the most ambitious in the book, and the most exciting. A long and spirited meditation on life and the metamorphoses of the poetic mind, it exerts a real imaginative force. Rosenblatt is considered by many critics to be one of the best young Canadian poets. This book offers sometimes exciting, sometimes mystifying, sometimes maddening examples of his work. (pp. 290-91)

Douglas Barbour, "Book Reviews: 'Winter of the Luna Moth'," in The Dalhousie Review, Vol. 49, No. 2, Summer, 1969, pp. 289-91.

Frank Davey

Joe Rosenblatt is a poet of wit and contrivance—along with John Robert Colombo one of the few to emerge among Canadian experimential poets of the past fifteen years. He delights in outrageous effects—in the juxtaposition of the sublime and the frivolous, the sacred and the obscene, sophisticated surrealism and the blatancies of pure sound.

Since his second book, The LSD Leacock (1966), his predominant theme has been the essential unity of cosmic life. To Rosenblatt, the human, animal, vegetable, and mineral realms share and interchange even their individual atoms of being. As the title of The LSD Leacock implies, he casts himself as a visionary who sees beyond the false and orgulous barriers man has placed between himself and the rest of creation. Like Leacock, he makes cynical note of human hypocrisy, but adds to this an absurd and horrific view of the insect and animal kingdoms as humanity unmasked—humanity stripped of its pretensions to decorum, tradition, etiquette, decency, chivalry, cleanliness, etc. He shows us our fragility in the smear of an egg yolk, our gluttony in the spider's feast.

The direct and exuberant lines of much of The LSD Leacock give place to more delicate and often less powerful writing in The Winter of the Lunar Moth (1968). The strongest poems comprise an opening section on the humanity of fish (and, correspondingly, the piscine nature of man); with a few...

(The entire section is 543 words.)

Peggy Fletcher

Joe Rosenblatt's Dream Craters is creatured with nightmarish fantasy people, and highly sensuous language. It is an imaginative examination of the psyche, and the poems in most cases are metaphorically refreshing.

Sometimes we are lulled with gentle imagery, then cast into the violent and sadistic aura of despair, death and destruction. Some weakness appears in the repetition of certain symbols, but the overall effect is satisfying.

The form is controlled and visually effective. Internal rhyming and alliteration help create a colorful flow of words and there is no interference of the intellect over the emotions. Both meld together in an interesting and evocative manner.

Peggy Fletcher, "Books We Have Read: 'Dream Craters'" (© 1975 by Peggy Fletcher; reprinted by permission of Canadian Authors Assoc.), in Canadian Author & Bookman, Vol. 50, No. 4, Summer, 1975, pp. 26-7.

Alan Pearson

Rosenblatt's poetic aim is to elevate consciousness by means of language; and he sees the poet's role as élitist and somewhat akin to that of the medicine man. His chief interest is in concentrated, mystical poetry in which timeless symbols dominate. Poetry, he believes, must fulfil a tribal ritual in which religion, magic and esthetics play a part. All of this isolates him from a good deal of comtemporary poetry which is so often anecdotal, political or merely self-regarding. The chief influences in his development have been Emily Dickinson, Blake, Lorca, Dylan Thomas and Housman.

A part of Rosenblatt's imagination is fascinated by the world of the primeval swamp, a dark world of palm and fern, where toads, birds and fish live out their shadowed lives…. It's a world of menace that glints in daylight mists and glows in eerie starlight.

This is a world that provides him with an abundance of "objective correlatives" for depicting some of the fouler aspects of contemporary life; and, alternatively, a world that is preferable to today's society with its elaborate intellection and expedient sophistry.

This withering view of man is brought about by Rosenblatt's contemplation of what we are doing to the biosphere—whether it be killing one another or penetrating the secrets of space…. Rosenblatt is concerned with the fate of man but the concern has more or less turned to despair.

Although Rosenblatt's prevailing mood is somber, his subject matter ranges widely [in Virgins and Vampires]….

"Somewhere in Argentina" … is the closest Rosenblatt gets to a political statement; however, an artistic reticence prevents him from revealing in so many words that it is the ex-Nazis he is talking about. He seldom drops the poetic mask….

Rosenblatt's imagination can flare like lit magnesium or duck into darkness and take strange twists that, at times, could be considered a trifle overwrought. In other words it's a rococo imagination delighting in elaborations and expressing itself in cadence and rhythm suitable for the spoken word.

This book amply confirms what the cognoscenti already know; namely, that Rosenblatt is one of Canada's more original and important poets.

Alan Pearson, "Rococo in Primeval Ooze," in The Globe and Mail, Toronto, August 30, 1975, p. 29.

Gary Michael Dault

Both as a poet and as a draughtsman, Joe Rosenblatt has always been a high-roller. He takes chances, shoots the works, believes with William Blake that "the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom."

As a consequence, it is not to Rosenblatt one would turn for measured good taste and studied propriety of form. What you get from Rosenblatt is poetic Russian roulette. When things are going well, you get your head blown off. When they're not, you suffer through the bathos of misfire after misfire.

Unfortunately, everything does not go well with Rosenblatt's [Virgins & Vampires. It] … is a curious mixture of snarly brilliance and sulky anti-climax.


(The entire section is 367 words.)

Gary Michael Dault

[Top Soil is a collection of three of Joe Rosenblatt's earlier volumes]—Bumblebee Dithyramb, Blind Photographer, and Dream Craters—with additional bits and pieces (More of the Insane) and a good hefty selection of his witty, congested, eminently explorable drawings….

Top Soil is a Rosenblatt celebration. For fans.

Of which I am one. Mainly because of the intense pleasure I have always felt upon entering the Green World Rosenblatt has constructed over the last decade for the performance of his slightly scattered but always absorbing mythopoeic three-ring circus.

This Rosenblattian Green World is a cosmos adjacent to ours,...

(The entire section is 517 words.)

A. A. Bronson

Visual poetry takes many forms, from the formal to the whimsical….

Joe Rosenblatt's Doctor Anaconda's Solar Fun Club only barely fits into the medium—barely, because the work is sneaking out of poetry and into drawing. Here, Rosenblatt's famous felines and froggy friends emerge in a visual garden of schizoid doodles, in which the pen seems to be possessed of a will all its own…. [Here, as in Loosely Tied Hands,] it is the drawings, announced as visual poems, that are the most specific description of this odd world….

The story line is a bit beyond me, but it doesn't matter. The frolicking lifestyle of Dr. Anaconda's cat Esther, the aquatic close-ups of Dr....

(The entire section is 176 words.)

Alexandre Amprimoz

The sound-poetry presentation like "Moth Sonata," the intricate songs that the poet weaves with the thread of subhuman worlds, a rich imagination pushed to the limits of originality and a comic perception of the universe that often takes the dimensions of a full rhetoric of irony make of Joe Rosenblatt a frivolous Kafka, an amusing Poe, a smiling Lautréamont; in short: a man André Breton would have welcomed in his anthology of black humour. Because he is all this, the author of Top Soil should be considered as the most talented poet writing in English Canada today, even if (not like many others) he doesn't take himself seriously. (p. 100)

Alexandre Amprimoz, "Dusted...

(The entire section is 121 words.)