A review of Dropping Ecstasy With the Angels by Dee Rimbaud

This is not a lighthearted read. There are moments of terrible pain, of lonely emptiness, of insane decadence which will upset the prudish, and of spiritual crises.Dropping Ecstasy with the Angels is a serious and important collection with poems that are ultimately beautiful, and that speak to the reader at the deepest, most powerful level. 

Reviewed by Magdalena Ball

Dropping Ecstasy with the Angels
By Dee Rimbaud
Bluechrome Publishing
2004, ISBN: 1-904781-06-3

Dropping Ecstasy with the Angels is an extended love letter, working its way under the reader’s skin with its celebration of life and beauty in the face of death and loss. It is unflinching in its ability to look ugliness in the face, and quizzically, sympathetically, uncover the secrets behind the pain. Loss pervades the work: lost life, lost youth, lost time, and lost opportunity. And yet the poems themselves seem to reclaim that loss. The opening poem, “When Angels Collide and Bang Their Heads,” has the narrative perspective of both observer and participant in a suicide. The poem is shockingly beautiful, with its heady, repetitive imagery, piling metaphor on metaphor in a way which is magnificently visual. There are no tears and no bleak despair. Instead, we are inside the subject, drawn into her anger, and drawn towards the seductiveness of death:

She is saturated by the cold:
It seeps into the finest fibres
Of her bones, into the dark nature
Of the stones pressing
Into her soft blue flesh.
She is fascinated
By its metal disinterest
And, magnetised,
Drawn towards
The subliminal image
Of abject nothingness. (6)

The poem ends with a gentle, maternal image of the girl being taken by the Sylkies to swim forever in the ocean, “This God for godless souls,” giving back a sense of hope and peace. As with many of the poems in this collection, it is generous, healing, and conveys the complexity of tragedy in the most delicate way possible. This contrasts with a later poem about a very different suicide, “An Epitaph,” which is much blacker–a death by speeding train. Again there is beauty in the heart of the pain; the “bright sparkling jewel” of life which remains, even after the death, and those that are left, surviving and uncomprehending:

We are unwise after the event, each of us shaken:
The terrible beauty that is life,
That is living, mystifies constantly,
Tears us from the soft womb of complacency. (18)

There are other less literal forms of suicide: abortion or abandonment, including the mini-death of morning after abortion, where Rimbaud again susses out something shining in the midst of horror:

I mistook his smile for something other
For childhood fairytales, vague promises
And dreams I can put no name on, (“The Morning After,” 14)

Or “The Apple of My Eye” where a father tries to explain his absence, to reclaim the missing years in his daughter’s life. “The Apple of My Eye” is set off by its successor, “My Father, The Painter,“ another missing father, this time from a son’s perspective:

An angry whorl
Where once there was language (21)

The missing person sits quietly as the subject of many of Rimbaud’s poems, including the grandmother deep beneath the barren grave of “No Daisies,“ the wild animals behind the smooth hypocritical surfaces of “Containment,“ and “Big Man, “ or the lost friend in “Asylum Antechamber.” We aren’t made of clay, and time only goes forward, but the poems look directly into the eye of the angry whorl and provide a language; a way of bridging the silence with a new kind of meaning. It isn’t all positive though. Some of the poems are electric, calling to mind Rimbaud’s namesake, such as “First Cut,“ “Stealing Heaven From the Lips of God,” or “Spindrifting,” all odes to giving oneself to the most intense experience, especially love. There are many hints of The Drunken Boat or A Season in Hell in lines which beg the reader not to cloak life in complacency: “Peel the skin from your bones/And let the acid rain dissolve you/Into nothingness. (“Stealing Heaven from the Lips of God”, 33). This is actually one of the weakest poems in the collection, its didacticism cloaking the self-revelation which makes most of the other pieces in this collection so powerful, but there are still moments when the work penetrates through to the reader.

Though there is nothing obscure about this work, and it is immediately accessible, each poem cries out for multiple readings, to pick up the subtleties, and the rich language, which speaks of moments of beauty, longing unfulfilled, the truth beneath the surface, and often, of a kind of Buddhist desire towards emptiness:

Underground, denuded of mirrors and jewels
I am nothing:
Nothing in my dreams,
Nothing in my splendour;
And out of nothing, I am remade.(“Spindrifting,” 40)

At times, the remaking is only illusion, and the sum of all nothing, is still nothing. There aren’t any sylkies in the later pieces in this collection. Some of the saddest poems of the book, like “Asylum Antechamber,” “Angel in White,” “Heaven and Earth,“ or “A Chemical Romance,” reduce the earlier excitement of drug induced love to:

broken banks of grey clouds
That would bring winter’s icy rain
And freeze the wandering of our wings.(75)

Immortality is only illusion, and words only “briar wreathes” to lay on one’s grave. But the darkness always ultimately gives way to light. The final poems, such as “Awakening to Light,“ or “Ecstasy,“ can be read as a kind of rebirth, of allowing a chemical-free joy that surpasses words:

You, my love. I enter into your light, in humility. I have no
maps, few words and just the basic tools of a small child.
Speechless and blundering, with my sophistry in ashes, I
anticipate a happiness that surpasses understanding. (“Awakening to the Light,” 111)

This is not a lighthearted read. There are moments of terrible pain, of lonely emptiness, of insane decadence which will upset the prudish, and of spiritual crises. Dropping Ecstasy with the Angels is a serious and important collection with poems that are ultimately beautiful, and that speak to the reader at the deepest, most powerful level. It is exactly what good poetry should be. For more information visit: http://homepage.ntlworld.com/dee.rimbaud/droppingecstasy.html

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