Canadian poet Rolli executed a type of wish-fulfillment I’m sure many poets, myself included, would prefer to enact with our first books. He went back at Plum Stuff, his 2010 debut, revised 20 poems, added over 40 more, included several brand new illustrations, and – voilà: Plumstuff is born, as a kind of revised 2nd edition brought to us from 8th House Publishing.
Rolli is an artist, poet, songwriter – he works in multiple forms. His poems are full of the energy and playfulness and good humor of a poet who takes things thoughtfully but not too seriously. His poems invite us to examine our own thinking.
Plumstuff is broken up into 5 sections, each with its own theme. Section I, “Literate,” for example, lays out bits of Rolli’s poetics, in one poem referring to The Muse as a figure who strikes the poet “with a thickish limb” (arm? branch?), beating him back into the process of writing. Section II, “Philosophical,” deals quite a lot with human conflict in its various guises. Fascism is defined; readers are encouraged to “Pick a Side, Kindly;” “we” all have “nemeses we / cannot / remember;” the endless toil of capitalism is undercut in a snippet of song written for children. Rolli would like to lead us to a freer sense of self and the world without lecturing us too stridently on either. We’re invited to see what Rolli sees in the world, think Rolli’s thoughts. He’s yet another poet inviting us to get free of our old notions, of thinking that doesn’t serve us well.
A handful of the poems function as micro-plays, characters usually playing roles without names, simplified to “Man with Pipe,” or “Dandy.” Rolli has an ear for mostly uncomplicated verbiage and a structure simplified to just a few words per line, though he sometimes surprises with inverted syntax or some other minor convolution, something to keep us present, thinking, as we read. Illustrations typically lead off new sections – a skeleton holding an open book, reading, for the fifth section, “Fatal,” for example.
It’s possible to read this book too quickly, due to the style. A reader might move too quickly to consider the implications of a perspective or point of view Rolli explores. Sit with these poems. Like Rolli did when he revised and re-introduced this book, give them a 2nd or third go-round. Let them marinate the brain a bit so you can fully savor the flavor.
Steve Henn is the author of American Male (Main Street Rag 2022), Guilty Prayer (MSR 2021), and Indiana Noble Sad Man of the Year (Wolfson, 2017). Find more of his work at therealstevehenn.com.