Free-wheeling yet carefully wrought, this free verse collection is a joyful reminder that, at its best, poetry is music.
Alberts’ jazz-soaked debut jukes and jives in unfettered celebration of the musicality of poetry. When his scat-singing, finger-snapping narrators exclaim, “Rhythm just naturally beats / All the hell right out of me,” it is no lamentation but a sly proclamation of the heavenliness of a strong, interesting beat. Good poetry, he suggests, is at least as much for the body as the mind and more for the ear than the eye. Thus, deathbed reflection is punctuated by onomatopoeia—“When the film of your life runs out / When the screen glares white / When the film strip’s tail end / slaps, slaps, slaps”—and melody itself becomes a body to be exploited for musical effect: “Inside her rib-joints start a rattle, / like a snare, stick-stuck-staccato.” Not surprisingly, then, Alberts’ poems take a fully embodied, forward-moving perspective. In Adam and Eve, he sees not regret and original sin but other, more exciting firsts: “So ribs were the rub ’til one night in the tub / while scrubbing each other, errr, randomly, / they both started acting, umm, randily. // Now bed springs never rest.” This playful, life-affirming sensuality reappears in poems like “You Will Need a Pencil Today” and “Bacon ’n Eggs.” Sex, though, is only one type of play, a subject this appropriately titled collection takes seriously. Play, for Alberts, is a mindset and a way of interacting with the world. His narrators play with form, with sounds and with the boundaries of time and space. When, in play, a ball is hit, “the ball will arc / out of the field of play / lost to the game, to the players. / Just gone,” just as happened to Roethke that fateful day when he “Dove into a swimming pool in 1963 / And came right back up. / Left only his body behind.” Play can even become the organizing principle in making sense of tragedy, as Alberts demonstrates in the poignant “War Games.” The sheer fun of Alberts’ poetry, coupled with its virtuosity, may occasionally distract readers from the poetry’s deeper currents, but they’ll have no problem catching the rhythm.
Remarkable poetry, good for the body and mind.