The stunning conclusion to a 40-year poetic project
In the tradition of earlier modernist long poems like Ezra Pound’s Cantos and bp Nichol’s The Martyrology, The Invisible World Is in Decline: Book IX is full of startling poetic music and imagery while addressing concerns to which every reader will respond: the life of the heart as well as life during COVID-19, love as well as death, philosophy as well as emotion. The poems are deeply responsive to what an epigraph from Virgil calls “vows and prayers,” i.e., those things that we desire and promise. Like previous books of Whiteman’s long poem, Book IX is largely in the form of the prose poem. But the book also contains a moving series of translations in traditional form of texts taken from songs by composers like Schubert and Beethoven, songs that are by turns tragic, meditative, lyrical, and touching. The concluding section focuses on an obsession that poets have had for 2,500 years: inspiration, in the form of the nine Muses. At the heart of this book is what Whiteman calls “the bright articulate world,” something visionary but accessible to every thoughtful reader.
About the author
Bruce Whiteman is a Canadian poet and writer living in Los Angeles. He is the author of many books of poetry, including Visible Stars: New and Selected Poems (1995), Tristia, and XXIV Love Poems (2002). He regularly writes reviews for Canadian and American journals, and his scholarly books include Lasting Impressions: A Short History of English Publishing in Quebec (1994) and J.E.H. Macdonald (1995).
Excerpt: The Invisible World Is in Decline Book IX (by (author) Bruce Whiteman)
From “In Disgrace with God” by Bruce Whiteman
A million have died and hell is everywhere. The lists on sites and daily sound bites in the press that hist us into silence, exhausted before the gone and unknown dead. Wherever they go, there sighs are all that are heard.
Remembering the dead, our lot is to walk carefully forward. Not to fall headlong from hour to hour, from day to day, hurled like water from edge to edge, into the darkness that yawns beneath our steps. Like a man on a wire we don't look back and can't look down, but focus straight ahead.
Reflecting off the ice from a rooftop across the street, the sun shines inside the room. The weather is so beautiful.
The solstice will occur in the blink of an eye: grey skies, bare trees.
A dog in the park across the street runs hard and makes a beeline for a tennis ball, the only green thing in sight. Saturn and Jupiter are as close as they have looked since Monteverdi was alive. The dog stops on a dime and runs the ball back to square one. Off it flies again in a perfect arc through the cold morning air.
We turn around the sun in the ecliptic and long for spring.
“The project as a whole (a long poem that covers almost 40 years and stretches over nine books!) is a pensive record of time and change; and this concluding book is full of poignant images.” — Toronto Star
“Bruce Whiteman makes audible the disorientation of pandemic isolation, cultural forgetting, and the absence of the real presence of others in these haunting and aphoristic prose stanzas.” — Sharon Thesen, poet
“There is so much going on, line by line, in Whiteman’s Invisible World that it is hard to believe it could ever be in decline. Through nine volumes this serial poem teeters on the abyss, seems sure to fall into the infinite maw of self-pity, then rescues itself by an act of acro- or aerobatics — with language as gymnast, rhythm, the pilot — and sheer fortitude in control.” — Robert Hogg, poet
“Whiteman (our pandemic Virgil) writes the real that is ‘in decline’ back to full and complex life, tracing the crucial gods that live in the details of being a poet among a lost people, the romance of writing poems as the city sleeps, in watching spirited dogs run, and in those red wine memories of past lovers, those elusive, flickering flares we hurry past these days to run headlong into blue screens, fiery trysts, or amateur astrology, all of which are attractive trap doors. Yes, there is a hell of unmeaning out there, a world being unmade by unassailable forces, so we need every poet we have making the world visible again … and Whiteman’s symphonic cycle is ending, so I can only say in selfish vein, play on, Bruce, play on!” — Justin Million, author of EJECTA: The Uncollected KEYBOARDS! Poems (Apt. 9 Press)
“The shadow of the pandemic lies over the book, the sense of isolation that lockdowns caused chiming well with the more general sense of decline, specifically what Whiteman sees as a decline in the numinous presence of the world of the gods, that informs the book, and, I imagine, the entire work.” — Elliptical Movements blog
Other titles by Bruce Whiteman
Best Canadian Essays 2021
The Sad Mechanic Exercise
The Invisible World Is in Decline, Book VII
The Invisible World Is in Decline
New and Selected Poems
A Short History of English Publishing in Quebec
Selected Poems of Ken Norris