Catherine Imbriglio is an extravagantly talented poet. Her work has a rare boldness of attack and scope, both conceptual and emotional. Informed by the work of John Ashbery (on whom she wrote her doctoral dissertation at Brown University, where she also received her MA in creative writing), of Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge, Emily Dickinson, and the English Metaphysicals (who, like her, delighted in reuniting the disparate, torn pieces of this world into unexpected wholes), she has forged a unique and unmistakable poetic idiom.
Imbriglio’s poems explore the conjunctions and collisions of science, religion (particularly the Roman Catholic liturgies with which she was raised), personal history, and landscape, specifically the coastal landscapes of New England. For Imbriglio, poetry is not a formal exercise or leisure pastime but a necessity, a means by which to understand the world and the words with which we know it: “The need to tell you, the need to tell anyone,/displaced, handling displacement.” Often crossing the boundaries of verse and prose, her poems combine an interrogation of language, taking discourse apart and reconstructing it in new and dazzling shapes, with an emotional and intellectual passion, a genuine investment of vital energies. In her work there is both a raw directness and a subtle and supple intelligence (Scholastic in the original, Aquinean sense). Each aspect informs and infringes upon the other like charged particles in a cloud chamber, producing energetic reactions. As Eliot wrote of John Donne, for Imbriglio a thought is an experience. To adopt his words, her mode of feeling is directly and freshly altered by her reading and thought; furthermore, her thoughts are all informed by feeling.
Imbriglio has been rather reticent about presenting her work to the world, and so is not as well known as she should be. But her poems have appeared in such journals as American Letters and Commentary, Conjunctions, Denver Quarterly, Epoch, New American Writing, and Pleiades. I included a substantial selection of her work in my Iowa Anthology of New American Poetries.
Imbriglio’s first collection, Parts of the Mass, will be published this spring by Keith and Rosmarie Waldop’s estimable Burning Deck Press. The titles and much of the material of the poems in the book are keyed to the Roman Catholic missal, the book containing all of the prayers, important chants, and instructions for the celebration of the daily and Sunday Mass throughout the year. She uses the missal as a springboard, taking off in various directions associative logic leads her. As she says, “I spot a title or a phrase that seems to resonate and I work with that. Some poems are more directly related to the text than others; in some I’m just interested in what happens when you use the Latin title, with all its connotations, as the frame to a poem.” As Bin Ramke writes in a blurb for the book. “there is a bright enthusiasm flashing from the poems as they engage the ossified language of the titles, and a new kind of singing results.”
Say for me.
Say forth, say forthwith, in the name of colors, of real colors, in the name of real colors named, in the initial real color named, say Brunelleschi, say curvature, say Sir Francis Crick. For what we are about to receive, not only show all fragile passengers, red in the initial appearance of a material surface, say this is the place, this is the effort on our part, this is where we’d say, “This is.” To expend our dream hoard that the years ago came from the ancient monotreme lane, enter “the lovely ropemaker,” 1520 - 1566. In memory processing, in egg laying, in “let them alone so they’ll come home,” from to look at, add species hours, add breath toll, add an REM script. To the inquiring name, recognizing it needed room, it needed feet, for somewhat as though, it, you, drew, birdscatterer, through the engine of, the stem of, from up to your body breakable, i.e., “if all the trees were one tree.” It drew through its tongue, its backwater, its layer upon layer, its layer upon layer beneath the larger layer, for when in your shock upon shock, in the name you were named: be monkfish, be milkwort, be mate.
I will go.
I will go then.
Once consolidated are said. Once safely departed are said. During once which I would never roll my eyes. She was 15 at the time. She was 15 at a garden party. And refused an introduction, and refused the closest the mind comes to, as introduction. As long as we do, we do. The figures how do you do indomitably passed. Other stubbornly irreducible Mabels and of in at 15, their higher mentals functioning. On the ventricle side, holes she said are said, the ventricles in fact, in fact at the rest stop we indomitably. Are one up on the so where and how not welcome at the center of which she thought ventricles without actually detecting anybody. Who are at least one up on who he she thought centered in the cerebrospinal, fine. Restored to a proper body, when in the midbrain geese have long lives. Ventricles are which in fact said. At proof in the invisible accompaniment, once in safely departed, fine. Thought first of objects could have been traced on a windowpane even in. Not to mention a frank possible connection to Descartes’ cell. It seems to me, but also the. To be freed of the. To speak of so long and sincere in its willful in its like-minded point of kind. No longer the sweet and beautiful thing it once was. She meant to say, but. Separated from its more thick its more coagulated find.
Each now dropped
Lay your hands upon me, you in the black bent grass, the body in motion that stays in motion, so too in your drifting to or from me, in the pictures of the body that provoke the body, judica me, you in the blackpoll warbler, judica me, you in the black-tailed godwit. It wasn’t on purpose was it, in the way you get it down or keep it down, my texture to your texture, in the body as motion that stays as motion, judica me, which one of us, like spit. One of us should try breathing in the mirror, each mirror holding yet another mirror, it was something like communication wasn’t it, how many persons to a copper or silver goblet, how many persons from holding out their bowls. So too you in this drifting to or from me, in the pictures of the body that provoke the body, let me not from the circulation of impediments, let me not from accommodation to the pose.
No internally fixed order of stages stop. Under incremental light conditions stop. I look out and see under the lilacs stop. From woodbine to woodbine stop. Day unto day one tree frog two duckboards three goat moths stop. Made you look made you look made you look you stop. Were word of godetia real word stop. If without if without finding stop. What impudicity what who me stop. There is stop no speech no language where the voice from the wilderness stop. When it comes a’courtin’ and we all go stop. Yours to then yours to wend watch stop. Day unto day while we take its sweet time stop all rise.
Spiny wings that, suppose that
Break their teeth with your lips, break the teeth of the dumb flowers, open wide the calyx, for when you do what you do, I who you your honor, broke out in teeth, the alleged teeth, for at just that time, admit, for open wide, admit, were you or were you not, selah, down beside me among the cow wheats, the bull thistles. Go for the throat. Now we see it, now we, in sun mouth, in ripened seed head, casual, seriatim, party of the first part wreak party of the second. Rattle the big pharmaceuticals. Reign in with limit list. Rattle for rattle, rattle of rattle, constrained by, gag ordered, most wanted, grift. So moved. Hoop ash, basket ash, a set of promises, a mimicry. And then, an if then, a nothing to me. I lost my place. Partings of the first part beneath a parting of the second. So moved. Ballast love, when a rain coursing through me. Here. Hearsay. In here you’d say.
Vere Dignum et Justum Est
The sought after, the always three degrees away from bloom.
The mean position of the body in proportion to that alignment, that scene.
The world, as it follows them along, following simply, following some do-as-you’re-told.
Their attachment, the manner of their attachment, the means.
Meanwhile, the milkweed pods, with their faces pushed in.
Meanwhile, the milkweed pods like dry grey birds which sow each seed with their feathers spread.
Dividing the weight of each body by its acceleration.
In which case the body of the lord.
Their attachment to the world is odd, the devices they throw at the world, odd, the voices thrown, the astragali thrown, the o come all ye metacarpus and menhaden, thrown, then when it came to them, the white heron whose neck fit a question or a hook, then when her neck on his shoulder so that it built, according to mass by a percentage in ionic form, in the beginning was spirit gum, in the beginning then was he the most exposed.
I.e., this is my body, this is my body, this is yours,
Pressed in the hairs they lost,
As in, instrument or means used.
Now something in the world dividing on or off.
Now something in the world on or off then dividing him.
Now something in the world in him then dividing then dividing in.
Now something in the world the most exposed in on or off the divided him.
Now something in the world if then the weight of each window now accelerating.
Now something in the world him weight the window now divided now divided now divided in.