See our Best of Detroit 2020 winners.

Wednesday, February 4, 2004

The Unborn Muse of Shadows

Posted By on Wed, Feb 4, 2004 at 12:00 AM

The one-page introduction to Ron Allen’s recent collection of poems, The Unborn Muse of Shadows, categorizes his work as “sketches of language, images and Buddhist reflection” and closes with a dedication to love.

“Love is the whole/the rudder of the will … the healer … the touch of resolve” and “the filling air.” The ambling roster of amorous metaphors concludes by assuring that love “is not unkempt in the mouth.”

The 60 diminutive poems that follow are anything but unkempt at the mouth. Allen’s offerings are mostly less than 10 lines and rarely exceed 20 words. Accompanied by black and white sketches, etchings and woodcuts of Detroit-area artist Shaqe Kalaj, Allen’s spare texts are tranquil reflections on meditation, Zen practice and language. On the page, the relationship between these intimate poems and Kalaj’s somewhat imposing drawings can be either thoughtful or flippant, but the collection’s most intriguing attribute is its collaborative energy.

This energy is not without an occasional misstep. On “41,” the combination is almost comic when Allen’s offering, “words are/ the/ audible/ empty,” is contrasted by Kalaj’s cartoonish line-drawn face gushing enormous tears. There are moments like this throughout, when the images seem more like hasty add-ons than meaningful collaboration. But when the combination succeeds, such as in the highly nuanced, aptly abstract sketch that complements Allen’s visceral “45” (“sun is the smoke/ night is the hand …”), it gives the collection its greatest moments of poignancy.

Allen’s work is often set on tackling the ineffable (sometimes literally the idea of nothingness), and the meditations are occasionally thick with Zen-babble (“mind is not there/ it is here mind/ not here mind …”). Even though Allen introduces the book as a collection of “sketches,” it ultimately suffers from an abundance of seemingly hasty choices.

In “42” Allen’s entire poem states only: “I wish/ god/ would be/ more/ democratic.” Above it, Kalaj offers a sketch of two ponderous, wrinkled faces. The end. Unimaginative moments like this border on parody. Though the Unborn Muse of Allen and Kalaj is often more inspired, the inclusion of just such half-baked expressions distracts from the work’s finer moments, making the quality of collaborative sketches, in a word, unkempt.

Unborn Muse is Allen’s third book published by Detroit’s Weightless Language Press. Allen and Kalaj (whose name is pronounced: shacha kali) consider the work "an exploration of shadow and light in a search for meaning in contemporary society."

Allen, a veteran Detroit poet and playwright, has been writing in the Detroit area for 20 years, and has promoted poetry readings, workshops and theatrical performances. Kalaj is a Detroit-area visual artist who works in acrylics, woodcut prints, etchings, ink, photography and digital imagery. His work has shown in galleries in New York, Chicago, Toronto and San Francisco.

Weightless Language Press is a non-profit publishing company dedicated to publishing works that examine paradox, contradiction and the search for meaning in modern culture. It’s in its fourth year of operation. The Unborn Muse of Shadows was supported by ArtServe of Michigan in conjunction with the Michigan Council for the Arts and Cultural Affairs.

E-mail Nate Cavalieri at letters@metrotimes.com.

Tags:

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Detroit Metro Times. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Detroit Metro Times, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at letters@metrotimes.com.

Detroit Metro Times works for you, and your support is essential.

Our small but mighty local team works tirelessly to bring you high-quality, uncensored news and cultural coverage of Detroit and beyond.

Unlike many newspapers, ours is free – and we'd like to keep it that way, because we believe, now more than ever, everyone deserves access to accurate, independent coverage of their community.

Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing pledge, your support helps keep Detroit's true free press free.

More by Nate Cavalieri

Read the Digital Print Issue

October 28, 2020

View more issues

Newsletters

Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

Best Things to Do In Detroit