Continued...Mattew Paris / Review: Brett Rutherford
Dracula is not about a vampire, a character about whom in Stoker's novel we know almost nothing, but a tale about the perils of the unknown worlds beyond materialism that the conventional Victorian Johnathon Harker has traveled to Transylvania to discover in spite of himself. Stephan King sets his novels in the same cozy area of New England but gives them a set if nemeses that intrigue us as much as the lack of them in other novels merely about the victims of a monster might inspire us with a vague tedium. Brett's verse is about such desperate entities and people.
Brett has a range that demands different sets of critical filters for his varied intents. Some poems aren't aiming for the rapture of Longinus but the cool analytical effects in some of Poe's tales. His verse is all in some way reliably amusing. I would say some of it is in a league with any great verse written in English. It is that good. Brett particularly evokes the sublime in way that Wordsworth would have admired. He has turned out a singualr achievement. It buys in a novel and attractive way into the covert dread our species has of the unknown and knowable that hasn't yet been banished by our parade of amusements.
Since our aesthetics is rather weak on the value of anything it also might be important to say that Brett's verse stakes out territory not every quite respectable in priggish circles but a major element in American writing: the world of the occult, ghosts, monsters, the margins of the knowable. From Poe to Stephan King we have some great writers who have worked that sort of material into not a celebration of terror and gore but a call to honor an invisible world, a general sense in a materialistic society of somewhat narrow notions of what thought is legitimate that the price of such an embrace of a perhaps imaginary coterie among us of measure is a covert dread of all the subjects that Brett has in his verse.
It's not just the stuff of the supernatural but war and general decay that creeps into everything. Brett's poetry completes half of a generic human experience that has one foot in the secular and would like to have both feet there. This is not to say that anything in Brett's verse is ther than sculpted, lapidary, refined, even when it is in passing moments idiosyncratically conversational. It's easy to miss how good he is because he is discreet about his effects in a way let us say Milton is not. The only overtly dramatic element in some of them is its last few lines that cap his material with a brief emotional peroration and focus. The witty counterpoint and comic turns in the midst of some account of nacreous phenomena might remind one of similar etudes by ghoulish humor by Ambrose Bierce. It's hard to think of anyone else who is at once no niggardly offered of horror and as funny.
One should add to this gratuitous laud that Brett in person is very much the man who wrote these sui generis poems, plus has all sorts of polymath qualities and gifts as an autodidact that make him a singularity in this country. Currently living in Squirrel Hill in Pittsburgh after some long time residence in New York and Lovecraft country like Providence, he speaks and writes in several languages including Russian, is an expert on classical music, a composer, an authority om Peking opera, a master gourmet feaster and a scholar of Chinese history.
Brett among his myriad excellence also has organizing and leadership qualities; in his way he is a politician if his politics is to offer the world the equivocal values of an optimal consciousness. If those virtue weren't enough of a range, he has made his living as a computer expert, printer, and maker of beautiful books. As a publisher he particularly has been the champion of another great poet: Barbara Holland. He actually appreciates other people. There really isn't anyone else quite like him.