Jeff Rath is world class all the way. Poetry has lost a lot of its flavor in this new age. 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 all by himself. Truth is, I already have. The Millennial School of Poetry is post-postmodern in its truest sense of the word and I elect Rath to head up the school חדרים לפי שעה.
I don’t mind being bold in my statement that post-modernism is history. It’s over. As a worldview, it has been relegated to bygone days and it’s time to move on to another era. When that era began precisely I cannot say, but I can say that Jeff Rath is on the cutting edge.
You can see the influence of post-modernism in his work, however. As always, when time moves past the current age, the next generation of believers and seers are always influenced by the previous generations even if that influence manifests as a rejection of the values of those who’ve gone before. Rath’s poetry, however, lacks the awkward self-consciousness of post-modernism even when it compliments it and that is its beautiful defining element.
Jeff Rath is the ultimate raconteur. He tells stories. He presents his world view simply without being simplistic and without preaching. He has reintroduced the metaphor as a critical element in poetry and takes the postmodern concept of free verse to a new, never-before-seen height. This is evident in his poem titled “The Difference Between Sleep And Death,” where 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 on ice:
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.
Jeff Rath will make you fall in love with literature again. If you’ve never liked poetry, you’ll love The Waiting Room at the End of the World. If you haven’t read much poetry then you’ll fall in love with it because Jeff Rath walks right up and grabs your balls with his iron fist and squeezes until you give in. This is poetry for people who like their hair to stand on end and for people who didn’t like poetry in high school. It touches you wherever you are in your own particular way, just the way poetry should.
Whether he’s elegizing and romanticizing the Beats, taking the mundane and making it magnificent, 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 outlasts time. The Waiting Room at the End of the World is poetry for a new age, a fitting introduction to the third millennium, and a literature that will surely give birth to new and exciting voices and the critics who will seek to shake their faith. I can’t recommend it enough. There’s nothing bad to say. Really. It’s that good.
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