April 25th, 2008
Review by Allen Taylor
THE WAITING ROOM AT THE END
OF THE WORLD
by Jeff Rath
Iris G. Press
95 pp., $6.00
Jeff Rath is Lancaster County, Pennsylvania's secret sauce of poetry. Not since the Beats has there been a real movement of poetry that defined an entire generation. Rath's The Waiting Room at the End of the World could change that.
If I were to put The Waiting Room at the End of the World into a category, I would invent one just for Jeff Rath to occupy by himself. But since I can't do that I classify him as a part of a school that exists only in my mind. I call it the Millennial School, a school that defies all traditions by embracing all, comprising a neo-nonconformist view of the world through a lens of storytelling that is direct, concise, and gut-wrenchingly raw.
You can see the influence of postmodernism in Rath's poetry, but it doesn't take over. He lacks the awkward self-consciousness of postmodernism even when complimenting it and that is the beautiful defining element of Rath and his raconteur style of poetic yawp. Lyrical, narrative, and bold, Jeff Rath tells stories through poems, filling them with eerie tales and fable-intensive verse. More than a poet, he's an act.
Rath presents his worldview simply without being simplistic and delivers sermons without preaching. In "The Difference Between Sleep And Death," the poem builds into a crescendo and climaxes with a surprise ending that impels awe and sends shivers down the spine like ripples of sweat:
The lights go out.
The light goes out.
Soft curved lids of skin meet mid-eye,
feathery lashes intertwine.
"Is he dead?"
"No, only sleeping."
And from a distance--
say the half-open bedroom door--
the ruler-straight slash
where day and night divide
across the mountain range of his body,
you peer at the form lying on the quiet bed.
"Could he be dead?"
The odds, of course, favor sleep.
But enough people have looked in rooms
and called a relative's name
to wake him for work, a fishing trip,
or just to have company for morning coffee
to support the alternative.
You could tip-toe into the tombs of dreams
and gently shake his granite shoulder,
but, if he is dead,
you'd wake the rest of the house
with your screams.
So you pause at the threshold,
glance right and left down the empty street
of the hall and decide to let him sleep
at least another hour.
That way, if he is asleep
he'll be grateful for the rest.
If he's dead, perhaps someone else
will find him.
Reading Jeff Rath's The Waiting Room at the End of the World is like having a love affair with all the great poets of the past. You can see Poe, Eliot, the Beats, and even personas you can't recognize. His poetry walks up and grabs your balls and squeezes until you drop tears. Your hair will frizzle and your spine quiver and if you didn't like poetry in high school you will love it when you read Rath. In his hands, the metaphor springs to new life and if there isn't a word for what he wants to communicate he will reveal it through shining new ideas.
Whether he's elegizing and romanticizing Bukowski and Neal Cassady, taking the mundane and painting it wild, or espousing his heartfelt concerns over the state of the world as in "A Labor Day Rosary," Jeff Rath will make you believe in a poetry that matters. The Waiting Room at the End of the World is a fitting introduction to the third millennium, a literature that will give birth to new voices and the critics who will seek to shake their faith.
As editor Le Hinton says in his introduction to The Waiting Room, "If you are one who prefers to experience life and savor its moments, sacred, painful, and true, I promise that you will find several of your own favorites that you will return to for sustenance, for pleasure, and for wisdom, and you will never be disappointed." Amen to that.
Allen Taylor writes the daily WorldClassPoetryBlog.com and is webmaster of World-Class-Poetry.com. He has self-published two chapbooks and is currently revising a volume poems he wrote while stationed in Iraq in 2005 with his National Guard unit.