Joe Rosenblatt Alan Pearson - Essay

Alan Pearson

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.