Review by Kirby Congdon….
The Worshiped Island. Key West
by Alexis Girard d’Albissin
In reviewing books of poetry for a quarter of a century, this reader has often noted the prevalence of the medium in the middle class. Our nursery rhymes, folklore and spontaneous outbursts reflect our awareness of poetry in private letters, social events and literary publications on so many levels. This provides an informal climate that encourages a serious concern for it. Our thoughts and feelings about our very identity as either a country or as individuals are brought forward and established from one generation to the next. However, the ease with which we can indulge ourselves also encourages a lot of work that is hasty, forced, shallow and immature. A genuine gift for exploiting the language as poetry is rare and any recognition of that gift is even more rare because it often takes whole decades for a poet to develop. But an exception to this rule has become evident. I am thinking of a collection of work created at the age of eight (The Worshiped Island. Key West by Alexis Girard D’Albissin). I confronted the young man’s parents asking them if this was really their son’s own work. This idea was immediately rejected and replaced with the admission that they had indeed encouraged their son to find himself along with whatever it was he could do. Familiar with the details of publishing, his mother and father had presented their son’s work in a handsome format in book form.
I wondered where were you, Mr. and Mrs. D’Albissin, when I needed you myself almost a century earlier? Here were ideal parents who recognized their offspring’s potentials. My own spontaneous assessment elicited the term “brilliant” because his words had music, flowed freely and pulled the reader into the poem. I can believe in this child’s independence. When I was writing at that age I soon dismissed my mother as a collaborator. The creative spirit does not even pretend to be a partnership. Identity, ego, the psychic search itself is a private journey that avoids outside influence. If we are to die, we need any recognition of it to belong to ourselves and what we ourselves have done. The achievement of that kind of dignity is not a group entertainment at any age. Like the chick forcing itself out of its prison of anonymity, an eight-year-old poet seeks his freedom too. How do I know so much? I was eight once too. I think all of us avoid good advice because we want decisions to come from ourselves rather than from the wise dictates of others, no matter how much we may respect wisdom.
The first poem written at eight in this collection shows extraordinary control, avoiding the platitudes we expect in early work. I am thinking of the phrase
the moon….is a sign that the gold has been put
` in its place next to the sword.
This has no immediate reference but it provokes one’s own imagination to simply let go. The concluding line is
The harp in time will be played by many.
The conjunctions of activity and peace suggested by gold, the sword and the harp are provocative while the moon simply suggests the exercise of wonder and all of its interpretations.
One hopes that Mr. d’Albissin, as an adult will take up these ideological conflicts with the advantages that experience brings and that he will exploit his talents in order to enlighten us on the eternal questions that we all want answered.
The book is engagingly illustrated in color with symbolic figures on glossy paper in keeping with the casual but attention-getting style that makes the publication an inviting one. I do not worry about over-praising this book because someone who uses words in this exploratory way without pretension or showing off will be and perhaps already is his own most severe critic since he knows best what he is trying to do.
“The Worshiped Island. Key West” by Alexis Girard d’Albissin is available via Amazon.com
Kirby Congdon found his calling in the time of the Beat Movement, his poems being published by the New York Times, The New York Herald Tribune and the Christian Science Monitor as well as countless small-press outlets. While influenced by the assertive stance of a new generation in literature, he preferred to set aside the spontaneous approach of his friends and use his work as an exploratory tool in establishing the new identity of his times as well as that of his own maturation This search was incorporated in 300 works which were compiled in a bibliography by a Dean of the English Department at Long Island University in his retirement and made available in hard-back with an extensive addenda by the literary activists of Presa Press through their skills achieved from the University of Michigan and their own experience which commands a movement in itself of contemporary literary action.
Congdon’s work in poetry covers innumerable treatments of countless subjects in single poems, long treatments on a subject, and many collections of both serious thought and imagination through not only the poetry but through essays, plays and ruminations. Named the first poet laureate of Key West, he received a standing ovation for his reading honoring this position and was the featured poet in a festival celebrating Frank O’Hara in the New York region. He was also asked to read his work as well as give a talk on the country’s national poet laureate, Richard Wilbur, at a seminar honoring that man. Currently, Congdon is working on an autobiography and a collection of complete poems.