Silent Music by Richard Bronson
Reviewed by Martin Abramson
Perfect Paperback, 91 pages
For many years I watched Richard Bronson’s poetic development from awkward beginnings, through years of tireless work-shopping and saw how diligently he pursued his craft and how honed and polished his work became. So I take considerable pleasure in introducing a worthy successor to his well-received first chapbook, Search for Oz; namely, his latest collection: Silent Music.
If one is to compare Mr. Bronson with other physicians who turned to writing later in life, one might cite resemblances to the linguistic experiments of William Carlos Williams or the intense social concerns of the French author, Jean Reverzy. But Mr. Bronson has his own version of “No ideas but in things,” his own style, as meticulous as Williams’; and his own views of history, as driven as Reverzy’s.
Silent Music contains four sections beginning with a series of poems devoted to images of childhood along with sketches of parents and relatives. The charming “Tootle” is a touching moment of infancy; “The Good Son”, a scene of childhood anguish and humiliation; “Atom Drill” depicts the terrors of nuclear war reflected in the eyes of school children. “The Mouth of the Dragon” shows a time when the author narrowly escaped death (as most of us have at one time or another) and was shocked into awareness of life’s fragility; “My Uncle Jerry” is about the oaf whom we all remember as the in-law who pinched us, cracked our knuckles or threw us into a lake to help us learn to swim. Other poems in this section depict touching images of the author’s workaholic dad, and perfectionist mom, snapped at different stages of their lives.
Topics that repeatedly command the poet’s attention include religion, politics, war, people, love, medicine, music, time, nature, and travel. Several poems overlap two or more of these topics.
“Jones Beach” conveys the sudden sweetness of a first date when everything goes right.
A mist off the sea touched our skin
----bare arms and legs----
and we laughed,
while the surf rushed
along rock jetties.
“Imperfect Knowledge” dramatizes the medical shortcomings of an earlier age when the poet’s doctor-father allows a shoe store to x-ray his son’s feet; subsequently the father is himself felled by overwork, and a second heart attack (precipitated perhaps by those little red estrogen pills). “The Dinner Party” emanates vibrant acoustical chords, and poses a tantalizing puzzle concerning the identity of an unseen guest. “Perfect” describes the punctilious care a woman, presumably the poet’s mother, takes in the execution of domestic duties: shopping, homemaking etc. This is then compared to her later appearance in a nursing home.
…Her gait precarious,
Though her mind is clear.
She still wears heels---
It is her way---
Though death lurks with every fall.
“The Time Eaters” is a wide-spectrum study of time--geological, archaeological, biological and biblical. Other poems treat the concept of time: “At Tewksbury Abbey”; “Summer Solstice”; “Indian Summer”; “2001” and “Anniversary”. “Mount Zion”, the name of a Jewish cemetery, examines the ritual and reality of modern burial. “Continental Drift” depicts what happens to so many marriages as the years roll by:
We’ve lived in a private United Nations,
our own Security Council,
each with absolute veto power.
It has served us well these forty years---
“Fugue” explores parallel universes in which family members avoid decisions that resulted in tragedy or premature death. I tuned into this piece personally on many levels.
Mr. Bronson’s meditations on the horrors perpetrated by humans upon one another include precise medical sadism and general atrocities. “A Portrait of Otto Dix” depicts the appalling conditions of surgery in an earlier age (Google: “Hans Koch Urologist” to see the painting itself.); “Terminal Velocity” supplies a view of NYC through the eyes of someone falling in slow motion from a window of the Twin Towers; “Cura Te Ipsum”, is an ironic self-justification by Josef Mengele. Others in this group include: “Cry, Oh Cry Dafur”; “Flag Day at Hudson” and “Anthrax”.
Lest I give the impression that Silent Music is top heavy with intellectual fare, let me close with some instances of the spell binding lyric imagery found throughout the book. From “Passage”:
He rode on a river of steel
through a cave of night.
Lights of little towns winked welcome,
From “Driving Home…”:
Houses catch fire in failing light
as the day dies---
From “Indian Summer 2001”:
The Sun has crossed the sky
Touched dark, still water.
Only the pale moon
from its empty place
at the closing of an age.
From “Wind Singer”:
The strings and winds are like two peoples
who speak the same language
but rarely congregate
except in formal, prearranged meetings.
From “The Secret of Vilcabamba”:
Rose petals, red drifting over cobblestones…
White butterflies, prayers on folded paper
I leave the reader to explore the many other treasures of this collection. Whether speculating on religion, music, nature or distant lands, Mr. Bronson’s sharp eye and appreciation for detail are always compelling. Even more significant are the empathic depths, and subtle shades of color, which set off these skillfully wrought verbal objects. Mr. Bronson’s Silent Music is sure to reverberate loudly in your mind now and far into the future.
Specimen poems from an earlier collection: Search for Oz by Richard Bronson may be found here.
Reviewed by Martin Abramson.
Poets’ Quarterly | Winter 2011.
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