Joe Rosenblatt Gary Michael Dault - Essay

Gary Michael Dault

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.

It is, of course, the snarly brilliance that counts.

Rosenblatt is out for big game. His mission as a species of poetic hit-man is to deflower "the virgins of the literary landscape," the academic poetasters who have declined, as Rosenblatt sees it, to go all the way with their muses. Because these little poets and critics of the establishment "live off the poetic leavings" of large, more muscular beings (like Rosenblatt) they are, as well as virgins, also "vampires."…

In one of the finest poems in the book, "Naked Moon," Rosenblatt sees a moon now "Raped by rockets & pimples of humankind," a moon "mugged by progress."

There is enough of this sort of thing in Virgins & Vampires to make it worthwhile. It is, however, grievously flawed.

For one thing, Rosenblatt flogs horses until they are not only dead but decomposed. Perhaps because the book contains too many poems (more than 80), too carelessly juxtaposed, the reader is smothered in a vocabulary apparently so repetitive that it seems monolithic.

And Rosenblatt suffers a great deal from his most serious poetic difficulty—his metaphoric reach keeps exceeding his grasp.

Virgins & Vampires is essentially a book out of control. Like anything out of control it possesses a hectic careering excitement. If you are prepared to shut your eyes when the going gets rough, it's a wild ride. If you're not, don't take the trip.

Gary Michael Dault, "Poet Out for Big Game Misfires in Ninth Book," in Toronto Star (reprinted with permission from Toronto Star), August 30, 1975, p. H7.