Oct/Nov 2016 Reviews & Interviews


Mind Dance
Gilbert Wesley Purdy.
The Virtual Vanaprastha. 2016. 128 pp.
ISBN 978-1-53749-312-1.

Review by Gilbert Wesley Purdy

Buy now from Amazon! The proof copy of Mind Dance arrived this morning. The cover is smashing (if I do say so myself). I like to think that the poetry has a thing or two (or maybe even a lot) to offer, as well. The specialized Word template that starts the composition process screwed up a bunch of indentations. A comma has been removed, a few other minor adjustments made. The corrected text has already gone to the printer and I should have an electronic proof within 24 hours.

I have prepared a text of selections to make available via Kindle (e-book). They will go up as soon as the changes are incorporated into that text. In a couple of days, I suspect. My Kindle strategy has changed. No more giving away entire books for pennies.

Being able to assemble a book of my own poetry has been a special pleasure. When I first began The Virtual Vanaprastha project, I chose to issue books only of prose. It seemed a time to be entirely practical, prosaic. There is a vastly bigger audience for prose than for poetry.

Writing on the Shakespeare Authorship debate was more likely to sell books. It was a subject that I found fascinating. I'd done a lot of research already over the years. I would follow that with a book on autism in history. Again, the research was already well underway.

Matters proceeded much according to plan until my online "business partner" declared that the e-books it offered could be borrowed rather than bought. For this service, based upon the streaming model that has already impoverished music content providers, independent publishers would be paid a miniscule per page reading fee instead of the per book royalty they once received. Other new surcharges quietly began to show up on accounting sheets which further reduced what royalties were received.

At the same time, the means of reaching a potential audience at minimal expense was positively and rapidly being programmed out of the Internet experience. The big players were announcing that their proprietary studies indicated that the public wished independents would stop finding inventive ways to get their products in front of them. The same studies are purported to show that the public has no objection whatsoever to being presented with paid advertising.

The findings justified studying the vast amounts of data those big players collect from us all in order to determine by what mechanisms independents might be having a degree of success without buying paid advertising. The Internet being private property, the owners make the realities and the rules. Algorithms were developed in order to put an end to the "public's inconvenience". Its convenience coincidentally requires rapidly expanding monetization of the big players' properties and the Internet as a whole.

These developments have forced me to engage in some serious reassessment. There being little or no hope of making a go of independent publishing, however hard I might work, however analytical I might be, limiting myself to prose would seem to add nothing to my chances of success.

Success being an unlikely outcome, improved appreciably only by writing pornography or pop-spirituality books, I am freed to write and publish what I understand to be best for myself and my potential audience. The moment it became an option again I realized that I greatly missed writing poetry. It occupies a special place in my psyche (the "heart" metaphor being long outdated). I have scads of work already written and waiting in files. My first book—Mind Dance—has long been written and conceived. With the book, poetry has become an integral part of the effort. The world is a better place for it however much the world is unlikely ever to know.

The bits and pieces of rewrite that went into a number of the poems now some two months ago were pure pleasure. The "million billion" of "The Lady Cavendish's Atoms", which seemed so hyperbolic, when it first appeared in the journal SLANT, had long since become:

                                    The word of God, or cataclysm,
                        or both or neither;
who can possibly imagine either:
the spaces-hurled incredible decision
            or unwilled impossibility?
            Or who the suddenness of light
      astonishing the darkness, making night,
      which dying for a time could finally be:
a billion billion years without a day
and then a billion billion suns' display?

The math is more correct. But however attractive the repetition of plosives might seem in a poem that begins with The Big Bang, the universe itself is more hyperbolic still, unimaginably vast, and that is everything to the point. In Mind Dance the stanza now reads:

                                    The word of God, or cataclysm,
                        or both or neither;
who can possibly imagine either:
the spaces-hurled incredible decision
            or unwilled impossibility?
            Or who the suddenness of light
       astonishing the darkness, making night,
       which dying for a time could finally be:
untold eternities without a day
and then a billion trillion suns' display?

Other changes were less incalculable. Most went towards clarity. The mystery of all existence tries grammar to its limits even taking full advantage of poetic license.

Of course, Big Bangs arrive at poems only after a long journey through wars and various smaller scale battles and the lusts that go with them, first among subatomic particles, then atoms, then molecules, cells, and eventually, at the end of a mere 14 billion years, among human beings

                                    ...somewhere snuggled out among
                        the provinces
of just another galaxy...

Stanzas often slightly modified from the poetry of John Donne and filled not with metaphors from early 17th century science, but from the 21st century, fall at the end of a much shorter passage of time filled with first words and first misuses of words, religions and psychologies, weddings and divorces, feasts and famines, the commonplace and the mysterious, constellations named after mythological figures and innumerable stars named only with letters and numbers. At the bottom of it all is people simply being human.

Stanzas, borrowed from Donne or otherwise, are long out of fashion, it's true. But the universe seems not to have received the memo. It is little more than rhyme and nothing at all but rhythm. It dances as it sings, the joy of existence being too much for it to keep still or quiet. We aim antennae at it, ourselves enrapt, our minds transported, and watch and listen to...

                                                ...hushed lyrics we
can only struggle to translate, as dream,
perhaps, or poetry, a nebulous
            strange language striving to cohere
            somewhere within us as it has

The Mind Dance is our precious addition to the great dance. Yes, we are an integral part of the great dance:

                                                ...a merriment
of molecule and cell, a melody
of cerebellum, heart, lymphatic ducts,
backed by the swelling organ of the lungs.

But we have learned new steps almost as miraculous as The Big Bang itself. We have learned to bring the great dance inside our minds, into a dimension that didn't even exist before us, a dimension that isn't even properly physical.

As I watch the massively wealthy and powerful players convert their big data into algorithms that assure ever more effectively that the independents can no longer succeed on the Internet without paying them the maximum possible amount of money—an amount that comes down to surrendering all profits and then some—I am reminded of the dance. I find it a rich and comforting way to envision life in the midst of troubled times that, sadly, promise to be much more troubled still.

            though poetry and joy remain,
            the night is filled with both, it seems.
I've given time to one, the other needs
its due attention, and so I'll spin away
upon a little planet somewhere deep
within the Milky Way... and you may read.

It feels great to be back. Just in case you might be a little late to the party, welcome to the Mind Dance!


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