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Also by Kate Gray:
Practicing a Gentle Art: Review of Bart Edelman's The Gentle Man | A Triumph of Chicanery:Review of Daniel Chacón's Chicano Chicanery

also see Bart Edelman's work in CLR


Practicing a Gentle Art: Review of Bart Edelman's The Gentle Man

The Gentle Man, by Bart Edelman
Red Hen Press:Los Angeles, 2001
80 pages, $10.95
ISBN: 1-88996-33-1

Men's poetry has grown into a gentle art. Rarely do we see carpe diem manifestos or patriotic cries for battle. Men have gone soft. Perhaps it was Robert Bly who called men inside themselves. Certainly it was Billy Collins and Li-young Lee who challenged men to notice their vulnerable natures and the intimacy of their relationships. In this fine new tradition lies Bart Edelman. In his latest collection, The Gentle Man, he captures the complexity of the roles men play today through zany imagination and keen empathy.

With a delightful use of the outrageous, Edelman provides his readers with the means to examine their lives by caustically examining his own. He writes in "The Cost of Being Me," "The cost of being me / Arrived in the mail / Late last night." He totals up the charges leveled by parents, friends, colleagues, a former wife, children, and does not put up any defense, "Except for the dog's accusations . . ." In the poem, "Bats," Edelman allows the reader to anthropomorphize fear and sets up a situation in which the reader awakes in a cave filled with a billion bats. He lists the questions that may occur to the reader about why bats live in caves, why they have red eyes, and finally, how they navigate. When he writes,

Now you're intrigued and wish
You could speak to every bat—
One mammal to another—
Learning the sonarlike system,
Which would safely steer you
Clear of potential danger
And the unwelcome objects
You bump into each night.
In this way of imagining unusual situations and guiding the reader through each, Edelman offers reassurance.

At the same time, Edelman reveals some of the disturbing ways people use each other. Taking on a persona in "The Girl You Love to Hate," Edelman creates the stereotypic girl, "quite tall and lanky / With hair down her back" in a stereotypic situation. Edelman captures the complexity of envy, its shame and stealth when he writes,

You lower your eyes
When you feel shame's stain
Crawl slowly over you.
But the vision of the girl
Refuses to vanish entirely.
And you realize, again,
Just how much you hate her.
In "Love Story" Edelman condemns the duplicitous nature of some relationships. He paints a picture of a man devoted to a woman and willing to give her anything: his eyes, his ears, and his voice if she would join with him. At the end after he gets what he wants, the man admits,
He always felt a wee bit guilty
About that first day they met,
When he sat in the park
And devised his wicked plan
To steal her tender heart.
Edelman uses metaphor and somewhat surreal situations to show the sides of men and women in relationships that are complicated and sometimes unforgivable. And in these poems, he implicates himself.

Throughout his work, Edelman admits his vulnerability. Most vividly in his love poems, he shares the depth of his pain, love, and loss. He uses different persona to share his insights into the hearts of other people. In the title poem, "The Gentle Man," he makes a tender distinction as he speaks from a woman's perspective: "She wonders where he learned / The lost art of hesitation, / How kiss and caress differ / In every conceivable way" and he shows her his gentleness and patience. In "Broken Hearts" he creates a scenario in which a man runs a boarding house for damaged women he soon mends. Eventually, because of his success, he adds on to his house. At the end of the poem he describes the man worshiping a single truth behind "four granite walls, / Where he lovingly exchanged / One broken heart for another." The enigmatic ending leaves room for speculation that the man's heart is exchanged for each broken woman's. Through many of his poems the speaker gives his heart away and also asks for forgiveness. In the poem by that title, forgiveness becomes a river in which the speaker and a woman beat their clothes against river rocks and "slowly watch old stains / Drain below the surface," and still there is a sense of the stain existing as though the rocks hold its color. When the collection ends, Edelman combines his considerable skill in a poem which is tender and unusual. The voice is gentle and resigned:

Just one last request—
It's all I ask—
A small act of kindness
Step gently away from temptation—
The profane urge to shed
What little remains of our skin.
He sees the relationship for what it is, the loss of its spirit and its reduction to a dry skin. And the speaker asks to preserve what little remains.

The author of three other collections of poetry, Bart Edelman creates unusual situations to explore the tenderness and complexity of relationships. Often with humor, he shows a side of men that is empathetic, self-conscious, and remorseful. He is not afraid to show the vulnerability, absurdity, and tenderness which informs this gentle man.

Printed in the Spring/Summer 2001 issue of CLR

Kate Gray

Kate Gray earned an M.F.A. in poetry from the University of Washington in 1990, a literary fellowship from the Oregon Literary Arts in 1995, and a residency at Hedgebrook in 1999.

Her first chapbook won the Blue Light Poetry Prize and was published in February 2000. Her poems have appeared in The Seattle Review, Aethlon, Poetry Northwest and other magazines.

She rows as often as possible on the Willamette River.

You can find Kate Gray on the web at:
—  Clackamas Community College
—  Where She Goes
—  Amazon


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