Monday, May 2, 2011

Depressing & Gorgeous: Joe Sullivan on Daniel Tobin’s Belated Heavens

Daniel Tobin’s Belated Heavens is a visceral, masculine work of poetry rooted in the elements of the earth, depressing and gorgeous. It is heavy metal, not inert gas. Though the language may invoke visions, these are visions of earthbound horrors in many cases. There’s little ethereal joy here. There’s mainly consternation and questioning. Statements of the nature of nature. But the work eventually evolves into an acceptance of earthly bonds and a hope of transcending them, even if modestly.

The collection begins with the quote from Christian theologian Jacob Boehme: “We see the external world of stars and four elements, in which human beings and all creatures live. This neither is nor is called God. God certainly dwells in it, but the external world does not grasp Him. We also see how light shines in darkness and darkness does not grasp light, yet dwells in the other. We also have an example of this in the four elements, which in their origin are only one element that is neither hot nor cold, dry nor wet, and yet, by its movement, it divides itself into four characteristics, into fire, air, water and earth.”

This sets the tone: Tobin will be examining and attempting to translate into emotion the elemental of the earth. And like the four elements of ancient times, his book is divided into four sections: In the Neighborhood’s Throat, Fine Dust Sifting, Falling Upward and Bound Raiment. From these, it’s plain that he’ll begin at the very bottom, in a subterranean way, and work his way up, until ascension—though he actually stops just short of it. He knows only death with certainty and has questions about what comes after, whether it may be truly blissful or simply a continuation.

What’s most striking in this work is the way Tobin deals with everyday occurrences. He goes between these and more extreme moments of humanity with equal importance. . .