Rob Plath Book Review
by Steve Henn
Rob Plath. Death is Dead. Epic Rites Press. July 2012. 50 pages. $10 plus shipping.
Rob Plath's Death is Dead is about both the expression of ego and the attempt to free oneself of ego. It is about both overcoming one's demons and living with them. It is about madness, the creative impulse, and a frequent admonishment to the reader to "allow / the beautiful visions /sleeping in yr marrow / to wake up" -- to live fully, rather than "jump into death / w/yr dreams / locked inside yr bones."
In "what will you do the day after yr funeral" Plath addresses this, suggesting the reader might "sit on yr own tombstone / & wonder why you never realized / that blood flowed in yr veins," or perhaps "chill out / for the rest of eternity" because the reader made the most of his life. While that seems a healthy carpe diem philosophy of living, it's "the photographer" that strikes closest to the bone for me, and perhaps would for most creative types. In the poem, the title subject intends to pursue photography but just as quickly provides excuses for why she can't, and the poet claims "she'll take plenty of photographs / the first night in her grave / but they'll all be the same frame / every shot the ceiling of her pine box / every one of them black." The poem acts as a blunt put-up-or-shut-up to the type of person who says they might try a little writing, or painting, or other creative work sometime.
In "awake at last" and "death will be quite easy, i'm sure of it" we see variations on the idea of mortality. In the first poem, the subject of the poem finds himself awakened to music, and finally so, but hits his head on the ceiling of the coffin he is already in and hears "ten thousand hissing voices whispering 'too / late'..." In the second, the speaker of the poem is fasting, and in doing so seems confident that he'll be able to weather that final stoppage of time we all face.
The push and pull between the desire to shed ego and the blunt expression of it can sometimes be tiresome. Plath straddles the line; sometimes the role of philosopher works, and sometimes he breaks down into a sort of more-enlightened-than-thou self aggrandizement. In "one good dream among the nightmares" no one challenges him when he tells a room full of people he quit drinking, smoking, eating meat and ingesting caffeine. Perhaps the sentiment is simply a desire to be free to make his own choices, but there and in "my new tune" where the narrator runs into a drinking buddy who he believes imagines his sobriety to be weakness, there is a sense of superiority that comes across as a cloying egotism in a book that often seems quasi-Buddhist.
Sometimes the poems seem stripped too bare, as in the 12-word "on this dark brink," totally devoid of image in favor of what I would argue is an overly abstract description of a feeling. Other times just enough image bring a poem to life, as in "it takes more guts," which catalogues the difficulty of going to bed sober "completely aware of the darkness & the demons / whispering at the foot of the bed." In that one, Plath wants you to feel the knife twisting in his gut, and succeeds.
Simple lines can and do work in places as well. "almost forty-two years old," in which Plath is asked if he is related to Sylvia, is fairly simply and direct in delivery but among the most effectively-stated poems in the book, and the last 4 lines of "their absence makes the flowers bow w/sorrow" are perhaps Plath's best lines in the collection, combining cadence and elegance by asserting "some souls flash much too greatly / to be taken away from us // while most of the others / are long overdue to be dead." Plath claims Death is Dead with the title of the book, but that doesn't stop him from an attempt to flash greatly before it takes him.