Mark Rudman uses the image of the Millennium Hotel (an actual hotel in lower Manhattan) to suggest the various stopping places and temporary residences which seem to characterize life at the end of the twentieth century. The hotel and its related images (other hotels, casinos, sleepaway camps, and apartments) create the sequence of settings for this long series of interlocking poems that segue one into another and make the framework for this loose narrative depicting the poet’s life and consciousness. The titles of the poem’s four sections suggest the themes of the whole work: “Screen Image,” “The Millennium Hotel,” “Motel En Route to Life Out There,’” and “Above and Below” (set entirely in Mexico).
Rudman has said of his work that he intends it to be both dense and lyrical. The Millennium Hotelreflects these intentions and some other of Rudman’s interests as well, particularly his interest in translation (he has collaborated on several translation projects). Several of these poems are translations or imitations of past writers, including Heinrich Heine, Rainer Maria Rilke, Ovid, and Boris Pasternak.
Although the work’s four sections contain individual poems with separate titles, those poems are interwoven in language and image in ways that encourage the reader to consider them as chapters in one long sequence, a sequence that seems a continuation of Rudman’s previous long poem, Rider, which won the 1994 National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry. The first poem in “Screen Image” refers to Rider and uses its dialogue form (a form that recurs many time in this work). The two voices in the dialogue are like two parts of a single speaker’s consciousness, the italicized voice the more complex and cynical one, realistically urging, probing, (and sometimes puncturing) the claims and stories of the other voice. In this section, the narrator meditates on his relationship with his father, a man with whom he shared much time but little real intimacy. The poems in this first section explore the theatrical quality of this relationship, suggesting how the well-traveled father offered his son a variety of glamorous settings (deep-sea fishing off Cuba, at the Royal Emerald Hotel in Nassau, gambling in Beverly Hills) for his preadolescent fantasies but never offered him a real sense of the man who fathered him. “He was always on stage, your father. Preening for posterity in a void of his own invention,” the italicized voice says. The poem at the end of this section, “Distracted in Beverly Hills,” relates a story in which the narrator is humiliated by supposing he has won in a poker game, only to discover he has not understood the rules.
The first section’s images of a transitory life prepare the reader for the concerns of the second section where the Millennium Hotel (the title poem is a single long poem with twenty- four parts) dominates. The section’s epigraph from Louis- Ferdinand Céline says that “the last judgment will take place in the street” and thus “we hotel dwellers will be the first to get there.”
The section opens with lyrics which introduce the bleak urban setting, an icy cityscape at the end of the year, a time when the speaker finds himself thinking of the birthdays of loved ones, apparently those who have died, particularly parents. He has reached a time of life, he says in “Stormwatch,” when people must “watch their parents exit—step/ off—the far end.” He continues: “Death—is the paragon of patience./ It is not intelligent. It holds—all the cards.”
Those thoughts and the death of a friend or lover’s mother recall for him the weekend he spent with his son Sam in room 1812 at the Millennium Hotel; in that isolated place he became aware that time was hurtling in his direction, and thinking of his own dead father, he imagined a time when Sam will be in his place and he himself will be nowhere. The awareness wakes several images in the speaker. In one he thinks of himself as an archer, shooting arrows from a “dime store quiver” fruitlessly into the canyons of streets and buildings outside his hotel window. In another he considers the destruction wrought by a hurricane in Florida and the horrifying sight of the corpses it left behind.
The tropical setting of that image wakes recollections of his father’s fondness for motel showers and swimming pools as a cure for all ills. “Go for a dip in the pool and you’ll feel brand new,” his father repeated. That injunction then calls to his mind a time his father urged him and his lover to swim naked from the prow of his father’s boat, saying that no one would see them, as if he himself did not count. (These images take on additional significance later in the poem.)
The speaker returns to the Millennium in the spring time, during a court break while he serves jury duty. Looking at the hotel, he thinks about...
(The entire section is 2007 words.)