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The Advocate

From the Shelf

By Robert W. Gordon

Mother Advocate now shines from the newsstands 64 pages big, prettily disguising her prodigious fatness in gay covers, blue, white and green. But gluttony is not so easily concealed and inside all the evidences are there, aimless hulks of matter lacking any energy or muscle. So somnolent, dull and lifeless an Advocate I have not seen before, for the editors have ruthlessly stuffed her full of all the idle weeds that grow in our sustaining corn.

While taking in Robert Dawson's good poems for instance, the ancient courtesan has had to choke on his bad ones as well. The "Superman" and "Donald Duck" of Dawson's Suite Picaresque neatly juxtapose their heroes with a more immediate world, and unlike "Tonto" and "Woody Woodpecker" are careful and clever, never trying to tease too many profundities at once. For the most part he avoids what most of this issue's other contributors tirelessly insist upon attempting--sloppy, rambling, and pretentious juggling with the Absolute. Instead of annihilating all his images by sudden leaps from them into windy generality, Dawson gives them a shape secific and limited--in short communicable.

Of the ramblers and jugglers John Leubdorf (to borrow from his name the "S" he neglects to place in "Nietzche") is the most adroit magician and so the most irritating, for one feels that if he stopped sliding loosely from metaphor to metaphor he might make something of the more melodic lines of "End of Eroica." On the other hand, looking at "Nietzche," I'm not so sure. What is one to make of

He strode beyond the clatter of belief,

The swooning myth of weakling, saint and boy:

Hurt understanding was his leit-motif,

Ordeals of birth, and from corruption, joy.

The absurd rhyme gives it the sound of a jingle thought up by the College outline series as a mnemonic gadget for students who must know the philosopher's main preoccupations. Even at that, it is confused and ineffectual. When I learn of belief clattering, I want to know more, to hear the clatter more distinctly; instead I am handed myth swooning, a concept at least equally vacuous.

The poems of Mrs. Elizabeth Jackson Barker, which from their position at the beginning of the issue are clearly intended to be the Advocate's star turn, show a smoother, firmer, and less meandering use of language than Leubdorf's. But here too one finds the same awkward and acutely self conscious toying with metaphysics. One poem she begins: "The numbered summers fuse to form a tense,/Past-present: separate identities/Abandoned on the beach..."; another "A small departure will elude excuse,/The implication of its vagrancy/Impugn the settlement of old abuse/That makes of larger vice good company." Mrs. Barker presents these dry conundrums as miracles of perception that the rest of the poems will presumably fill in and justify. It never happens; whatever her experiences have been, she has chosen to speak of them in pointless riddles.

There is more poetry, whose criticism I shall leave to more tolerant folk. As for the stories, they lead me almost to believe that the Advocate really is an institution independent of its contributors: they are disappointingly turgid. The best of them, surely, is Don Bloch's "Christian," which explores the emotions of a son waiting for the return of a father who has run away from home. Bloch has a fine sense of drama; it is a pity he so often lapses into wildly overwritten descants on cosmic forces, as if the family of his story were not already overpowering enough.

Joe Porter's acceptable story (he contributes two) he calls "The Devil Will Spank" which despite a lurid obsession with the imperfections in children's teeth and hair has its charming moments. I wish he would not pause so long to build up great tortuous heaps of detail before allowing his children to move; the story emerges as a photograph of huge, static, concrete set-pieces.

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