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Angela Ball

The New York School Diaspora (Part Seventy-Five): Pam Rehm [by Angela Ball]

This Tender Riot of Chaos

The undeniable pull
of passion
is impossible
to let go of

Quite in love|
the comfort
of walking

the weather,
having attuned to the light
that grows deeper
into the day's fading,

this empty awareness 
is beneficent

A pulsing of pulses

to the place

a weathered loneliness

Outdoorsy through the moss
and quietness

of colors
before Spring's beginnings

                                             - Pam Rehm

Pam Rehm is the author of Time Will Show (Shearsman Books, 2018), The Larger Nature (Flood Editions, 2011), Small Works (Flood Editions, 2005), Gone to Earth (Flood Editions, 2001), To Give It Up (Sun & Moon Press, 1994), and The Garment in which No One Had Slept (Burning Deck Press, 1993). She lives in Manhattan.

REHM photo - photo credit Angie Rehm-Oh copy

                                                                        Photo by Angie Rehm

The New York School Diaspora (Part 75): Pam Rehm

Pam Rehm’s  “This Tender Riot of Chaos,” from her forthcoming collection, Inner Verses, mysteriously resets the balance between outer and inner weather, the abstract and the concrete. Her poetry saints may include both the William Carlos Williams of Spring and All and Robert Creeley, whose off-kilter lines keep us surprised. In her matter-of-fact meditativeness she has something in common with James Schuyler.

The poem’s title—one of the best descriptions of romantic love I’ve ever heard—and first stanza prepare us for a tortured affair—as does the first line of the second—but no, the comfort on offer is, literally, pedestrian.  We are invited into the surround of a place. Somehow, against known rules, we enter it via abstraction:

     the weather,

     having attuned to the light

     that grows deeper

     into the day’s fading,


The poem takes on a radical intuitiveness, saying that the weather has tuned itself to the light, while both grow “deeper” into “day’s” departure.  How is it possible to grow into a disappearance?  Does meditation presuppose oneness?  Maybe so.  A series of vivid abstractions shows how:

    This empty awareness
     is beneficent

     A pulsing of pulses

     to the place

      a weathered loneliness

Maybe the key here is our participation. We can’t but listen. The poem is as open as a ruin; it admits everything. By the time it becomes a series of commands—to the poet and to us—we are receptive.  To the “awareness,” “empty” as it is, completely friendly.  To “A pulsing of pulses” that suggests a welter of images: animal life, including our own; the stir of “passion,”; the stir of air; the moment-by-moment changes of atmosphere. Listening is accepting; it leads to “embrace.” We don’t ask how it’s possible to do that to “a weathered loneliness.” The poem has released us from ordinary doing.

How lovely, the fresh surprise of the casual “outdoorsy”—that applies, with stunning generality, to all. “Moss” and “quietness” are natural companions—but the quietness finds itself leaping a stanza break to apply, also, to “colors”—too many, perhaps, to name? The last line, with its gentle leap, brings us a broad sense of cycling into newness. Not the fierce corporeality at the end of William Carlos Williams’ Spring and All [By the Road to the Contagious Hospital], where “objects” “grip down and begin to awaken,” but an accommodating openness, an unspecified array of new starts.

Poets are often asked, “What are your poems about?” But poems aren’t “about” anything. They are in it. The best ones, like Pam Rehm’s “This Tender Chaos,” transform and erase time and all its “aboutness.”--   Angela Ball

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I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman


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