Book review: 'The Cloud Corporation' by Timothy Donnelly

Special to the Los Angeles Times

The Cloud Corporation

Timothy Donnelly

Wave Books: 154 pp., $16 paper

Like a favorite late-night DJ surfacing from the AM static one particularly desolate evening, Timothy Donnelly's "The Cloud Corporation," his first collection of poetry in seven years, more than makes up for all the dead air. His 2003 debut, "Twenty-seven Props for a Production of Eine Lebenszeit," got a heaping round of accolades, and Donnelly was even named "It" poet by Entertainment Weekly, a magazine not normally given to such declarations. But Donnelly, currently poetry editor at the Boston Review and a teacher at Columbia University's School of the Arts, hasn't been resting on his laurels. "The Cloud Corporation" is quite massive, with more than 150 pages of densely lyrical wordplay and painstaking incursions into class struggles, dystopian ecologies and the philosophical concerns of shut-ins.

The title poem, a seven-part collection of unrhymed tercets, finds that "the clouds part, revealing the insouciance of clouds/cavorting over the backs of the people in the field/who cut the ripened barley, who gather it in sheaves … to perform it repeatedly, to perform it each time/as if the first." Resignation is a common thread in "Dream of the Overlooked," which borrows language from Stanley Kubrick and Diane Johnson's screenplay for "The Shining": "to walk/through a door means to face a number of possibilities/greatly circumscribed by history."

If this sounds rather academic, you wouldn't be far off the mark. Poems like "To His Debt" and "Fantasies of Management" revel in situations not far removed from the plight of, say, a middle-aged writing teacher, but Donnelly spends less energy on strict narrative and more time immersed in the bathtub of his own language, sifting through meaning and sound. That strategy pays off in "Globus Hystericus" with lines like "an emanation/ willed into matter in a manner not unlike a brand-/new car or cream-filled cake or disposable camera." Donnelly's language can also, depending on your taste, become "the lump in my throat to keep me from saying that /surviving almost everything has felt like having killed it."

Ducker is a critic in Los Angeles.

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