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SHJ Issue 6
Fall 2012

[Poem + Commentary]

by Doren Robbins

Against Angels

Somebody asked me,
but I’m not going
to argue about

the topic of the soul,
deduce or repeat
inductive facts

for its evidence.

For me it’s what
the Alsatian poet meant 
when he wrote of 

the “precision of 
the indefinable.”

And I’ve risen
in the plain rinse
of that precision

a couple times before, 
and before that. 

But I don’t have any 
depth for angels,
not Lawrence’s angel

which he thought was 
made when a man’s soul
blended into 

a woman’s soul. And not 
Rilke’s angels—their beauty—
which he believed

was nothing but
the beginning
of a terror

he could just
barely endure.
I think there is

something somewhat
neurotic about
the prestige

and rarity 
of angels—so, 
I’ll stay plain, 

even crude, 
a turkey buzzard 
among herons 

and ruby-crowned kinglets.
And I would be cautious 
of angels—Constantine the Great,

for instance, contracted leprosy 
after dreaming of an angel 
pouring water on him.

—From My Piece of the Puzzle, Eastern Washington University Press (2008)

On “Against Angels”:
Commentary by Doren Robbins

First thing: “the Alsatian poet,” in line 9, alludes to the artist and poet Jean (Hans) Arp. Arp’s sculpture is a blend of organic shapes, corporeal, floral, geologic, spherical, often evoking the human body in feminine forms. The style is referred to as biomorphism, and it is deeply appealing to my eye. His best sculptures have the presence of something erotic and yet indefinable. My nature and my poems are grounded in both realism and fantasy, so I feel a strong connection with those simultaneous hints of actual but nonspecific realities that Arp conveys in his visual work. I find it attractive to trust the “precision” of unknowable creative forces; it is a condition, not a belief system. The poem is argumentative: I’m defining my inner inclinations toward the “precision of the indefinable.” The speaker is impatient with both D.H. Lawrence and Rainer Maria Rilke for maintaining the myth of “angels” as stand-ins for a type of spiritual or ecstatic condition, solitary for Rilke, at once sacramental and erotic for Lawrence. The closing lines about the emperor Constantine point to the danger of believing in, or even being associated with, abstractions of ideal purity (exemplified by the angel). By “I’ll stay plain,/ even crude,/ a turkey buzzard/ among herons/ and ruby-crowned kinglets,” the speaker of the poem is declaring himself a type of personality, one symbolized not by a metaphorically elite creature (like either Rilke’s or Lawrence’s angels) but by a bird that could survive by its wits, with a heightened sense of smell and sight, a bird that is not “pretty” and does not sing but instead makes grunting and hissing sounds. The symbol works for the speaker of the poems throughout the book My Piece of the Puzzle—a speaker grounded in realism and fantasy, prepared to speak whether the words are “pretty” or not.


SHJ Issue 6
Fall 2012

Doren Robbins

has published nine collections of poetry, most recently, Amnesty Muse (2011), My Piece of the Puzzle (2008), and Parking Lot Mood Swing: Autobiographical Monologues and Prose Poetry (2004). After twenty years traveling, moving around, and working mostly as a broiler chef and a carpenter, he became a teacher of English and Creative Writing. He has taught at Foothill College since 2001.

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury