5 Mar 1971
Reviewed in Campus Times, March 5, 1971
Malenga Expresses Modern Dilemma
By Chris Randolph
Young poets confronted with the convulsive violence of human life often lose perspective of its tender beauty. Gerard Malenga, the distinguished young poet and cinematic cohort of Andy Warhol, has preserved this pulsating beauty with a gentle mirth. He transforms it with a poignant clarity that radiates the vitality of youth and love.
As a guest of the Plutzik Series, Mr. Malenga, a young, long-haired, handsome man, presented his first reading in the Welles-Brown Coffee Room, Wednesday afternoon. The reading included selections from his translation of the Peruvian poet, Caesar Voyaho, and assorted poems from his anthology "The Christina Poems" (1970), which exude the passionate intensity of love and the terrible emptiness and boredom of living without it. He concluded with his most recent poems, some of which will be anthologized in his newest book "Chic Death".
One prose poem entitled "For The S.D.S." characterizes the gentle and sardonic pitch of some of his latest poems. The dullness he finds in the New York educational system is satirized by his suggestion to forbid the teachers who are not "dead," or at least acting "dead", from receiving their salaries. The poems invite the reader to indulge in a sense of intimacy but deny him any satiation of his guilt. Rather they offer him a share of the burden and the inevitable ennui of existence without love or friends.
Since the latest poems are usually concerned with personal experience, an automobile accident which killed two of his close girlfriends, they limit the reader's access to the essential spirit of the poem. What is extraordinary about Malenga's poems is their intrinsic privacy. Malenga considers poetry the tangible enactment of the poet's daily meandering through life. As such his poetry acquires the character of a journal resplendent with the brief episodic spasms of pain and joy that infest life.
The last series of poems read by Malenga manifested his concern that poetry be unstyled, unstructured and remain a conversational export of what a poet experiences from day to day. They order themselves into a pattern that depicts the routine temperament of life: "Shower/Shampoo/Shave" or "Illness/Prisons/Poverty/One Coffee Light, Please." There was a style to this poetry that is bereft of the dynamic vitality in his earlier poems. Where the most recent poems are excruciating in their attention to the pattern of daily life, they have the fatiguing quality of a monotonous mechanized society that lives a degraded form of human life.
FASCINATION WITH LIFE
The early poems of Malenga such as "The Star Develops in Orion" or "Human Sunlight: A Sonnet" utter a fascination with life; this fascination glorifies the indomitable spirit of youth and self-discovery, and the warmth that comes from love. "The Star Develops in Orion" invokes the rapture of being young: "What can a wave do/That the wind cannot,/ A bird, a cloud any moving thing?/How can the wind manipulate/The trees, the light?? That genius,/Thalt graciousness is what I claim...The spirit thrives on its own will to live...Now, as before,/! pity that bird whose wings are motionless." Here is the delight, the vitality, of a twenty-year old person intrigued by the mysteries of nature. This energy seems to have eroded and declined with the disenchantment ofage, so that the older Malenga is sickened with the commonness of existence, and the ruthlessness of death, which only love and his friends' concern can ease. This disillusionment is inevitable for a mature and serious writer.
It is significant, however, that his latest style, though more intimate, wears on the reader, despite its gentle mirth, with the persistence of a grating cogwheel. The "Christina Poems" alone perserves the youthful flourish and the tremor of self-discovery and curiosity that pervades some of Malenga's earlier poetry. Hopefully, the singular conjunction of youth perception, that was achieved in the earlier poetry, will return to enrich and enliven the sensibility of his future work.