Book Review
May 27, 2007

Rosenmann-Taub: A Poetic Enigma

by Pedro Gandolfo


Auge is the seventh title that the Chilean poet, a long-time resident of the United States, has published in recent years. It brings together sixty-two poems with a very clear formal unity. In general, they are short poems, with a brief meter, marked by a constantly rising and accelerating rhythm or by abrupt static halts. To achieve these effects, Rosenmann-Taub frequently resorts to colons, which he employs with great mastery as true semantic, auditory, and graphic short-cuts: the lines rush headlong or are fired like shots in which the poet holds the maximum of resources in abeyance. There are poems – a number of them – constructed without any articles, beautifully compressed and condensed, as if they were Latin verses. For example, Poem XLIV, titled "Conducive":


Another resource which is employed throughout the book is quotation marks to indicate a dialogue or a conversation within the poem. The poet, in Auge, is constantly asking questions, conversing, narrating, in quite a colloquial and even sarcastic tone. With whom is this dialogue occurring? We can't be sure, it's part of the enigma, but at times the talk seems to be with God or with the poet himself:

"You, body: an enemy?”
“You are wasting away.”
I lay down to fight with myself:
withered slowness. I rose: “Peace.”

We know that Rosenmann-Taub's entire undertaking is permeated by the imperative of eliciting the utmost of the poetry’s phonic possibilities, thus bringing it close to music. It could be said that for him, in poetry, the form, the content, and the spirit of the work, all inseparable, are captured by the ear. The rational task, the task of deciphering the word, the meaning, is entrusted to, or, better, is centered on the ear. The rhythm, the silences, the external and internal rhymes, the metric breaks, the modifications in prosody, the alliterations and other figures that contribute to the controlled construction of a musicality, are essential in the reading of this work.

In this endeavor Auge is an extreme book. We find ourselves, then, with an extreme book whose author is a poet of extremes in the sense that "any spoken word demands some kind of continuation, what is spoken never being the end, but rather the extreme of speech." The effort of Rosenmann-Taub in negating all that is superfluous places the verses at the limit of intelligibility. This has to do with wanting desperately to liberate poetic language from its own mass and from the laws of gravity, in such a way that the theme crumbles and spatters when it collides with the pauses, the rhymes, or the images.

The journey of a creator who uses this poetics in such a relentless manner can only be solitary and often misunderstood. In the poetic tradition of the past century precedents can be found of poets (Mallarmé, Benn, Mandelstam) who ventured on similar quests, and the incomprehension and misunderstandings are also comparable. Auge, in ancient Greek, means "brilliant light," a gleam that reflects a being alive, a birth, but which can also blind. This is the risk involved in making poetry at the extremities of language. Rosenmann-Taub deliberately positions us in that threshold zone. Almost at the end of the book he includes a very beautiful poem, which through its calm and balance seems to point out to us the other options available to him but which he takes away from us:

On the shipwreck day of my most beautiful boat,
I climbed up to its highest mast
to look at the sea.
There was no sea: there was not even its trace:
there was not even the void of that final day.
There was only looking.
I looked at the looking towards the sailing which I await

Thus, to read this book is difficult and many rereadings are required so that the “Then I understood” with which the book closes may perhaps come to pass in the end.