Monday, February 19, 2018



The Palace of Flowers by Gerry Grubbs
(Dos Madres, Loveland, OH, 2016)
“I no longer live in this or any other . . . world, I need some flowers.
--Mary Ruefle, My Private Property (2016)

One might be forgiven picking up Gerry Grubbs new book of poetry, The Palace of Flowers, and then thinking of Baudelaire.  Instead of fleurs du mal, though, Grubbs delivers fleurs de la romance. It is not too much to say that he delivers fifty-seven shades of romance from anticipation and infatuation to longing and heartbreak and to memory and desire. And, while reading the book, one longs to meet the dedicatee Mary.

Baudelaire and Grubbs both open their collections with an address to their readers.  Baudelaire’s opening is more of a warning and his view of the human condition brooks no romance. He sees his readers as stupid, sinful, and possessed by lust and hopeless boredom. It is a dark world full of obsessions, fetid smells, Nietzschean darkness, and Death.

Grubbs invites his readers to come to the Palace and enjoy the fragrance of his love. Instead of the dark world inhabited by death, Grubbs’ world is ethereal and it is a place where girls forever pick flowers for their hair. “And no one can remember/A time when this was not so.” (From No One Remembers.)

Memory, as much as flowers, serves as a motif for these poems. In No One Knows, Grubbs writes:

       I couldnt remember
       What had been promised
       But had expected it to be
       Something I would enjoy

            There is something eternal, primordial even, in these lines. Is it possible that memory of romance and of love predate existence? Are these emotions forever within us? Does memory leave its trace even when we cannot recall it?

            Just as memory links us to our larger selves, our selves of yearning, desire, surprise, and joy, flowers link us to the larger world of mountains and oceans and rivers. And that natural, physical world connects back to our emotions because the natural world gives us

That sense that
Something real
Never ends

* * * *

And thats something
Inside you
Longed to join
            (From Mountains and Oceans)

            At the heart of this entanglement between nature and self, between memory and existence, lies mystery as Grubbs writes in Bloom.

It is difficult to find the root
Of the vine that has grown into our lives

Its entanglement with all the others
Keeps it from being readily traced
Back to its beginning

But with patience with the willingness
To look under each leaf
To slowly extract it
We can find just the place it was planted
                    (From Night After Night)

            The mystery of it all, of the romance and of the love, is both intensified and frustrated by the difficulty of its expression.

I didnt want to say
What the evening was like
As if the smallest description
Would weaken it

Words may be poor vehicles to describe the ineffable but what else do we have if we are to communicate our love, our emotions, our wonder of the natural world and of the world within. Herein lies the function and purpose of poetry.  And, with poetry, It Begins:

It begins as a spark
Like a flower or a fallen star
You find while walking
Through your own field

Alone in the vast night
Enthralled with its fragrance

You vowed to carry it everywhere
To see everything in that
New light

            With this idea of attempting to capture the ineffable and wanting to hold it forever, Grubbs’ poems explore the many faces of romance whether in a first kiss or a night of lovemaking or in new sense of the found familiar:

It has taken me thirty years
To see the beauty in the plate
And in the fork
That she sets on the table
            (From What I Wanted)

            The poetics of The Palace of Flowers varies. Some poems have multiple stanzas with a number of different lines, some poems have no stanzas at all. Above all, many of the poems sound in haiku. Consider Words where he writes that “Words are thoughts/Clothed and sound/Thinking become visible. Consider also A Path: “Do not think that the footsteps/You hear means the road/You are seeking is near. It is quite appropriate, then, that Grubbs uses the sounds of haiku to explain love, flowers, romance, and ones experience of them.
            The fifty-seven poems in this collection open a wondrous world in which flowers bridge nature and the human through their many fragrances.  And at the end of the book, instead of staring into Baudelaire’s abyss, we are invited to join Grubbs on a different, a romantic journey:

And so
I found
A new way
To love


Joseph P. Tomain is Dean Emeritus and the Wilbert and Helen Ziegler Professor of Law.  His teaching interests include law and humanities. His book Creon’s Ghost: Law, Justice and the Humanities (2009 Oxford University Press) examines the relationship between law and justice by looking at classic texts such as Sophocles’ Antigone. He has also written critical essays on poetry and poets and has penned the occasional poetry review.