The Banquet of Donny & Ari / Naomi Guttman
London: Brick Books, c2015.
Poetry inspired by mythological stories always appeals to me. This one is a funny one though; the premise on the back cover says:
If Dionysus and Ariadne lived in Montreal in the late twentieth century,
would he serve veal stuffed with apples and paté de fois gras? Coach
nubile young singers in a performance of L’Orfeo? Would Ariadne’s thread
be fashioned into tapestries of furious elegy in the face of
environmental catastrophe? Would their marriage survive?
But the characters themselves feel like regular modern people, not godlike at all. They're a married couple, Donny and Ari. Donny is a music professor, teaching singers (often lovely young ones) while Ari is an artist, with many poems about her weaving. She's also fallen into despair about the state of the world, and it affects her relationships, to her family and to food. Donny is a gourmet cook, Ari has distanced herself from food and its role in their lives.
They also have two sons, Onno and Stephan, and many of the tender moments in the book have to do with these boys. In one example, Donny takes them to Newfoundland for a holiday at his mother's in one poem, leaving Ari in Montreal. The three of them together are sweetly evoked, again with many food related phrases.
The poems tell a story of this marriage, of survival in our modern world with all its perils both politic and intimate. I really appreciated the style; the poems range between these characters, using their individual pursuits with their specific vocabularies to illuminate the larger picture. And the web of relationships, to children, parents, extended family, pets and objects, is finely drawn. And in the end, despite the vicissitudes of life, their relationship remains. It's an operetta composed of poems which depend on character to propel the story, but which equally rely on the beauty of Guttman's language to capture and enthrall the reader.
And for a few more days, this relationship focused collection can be found for $10 as part of Brick Books' special February offer on a selected list of their titles. Check it out while it lasts.