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|Gilbert & Garbo In Love
A Romance in Poems
by Christopher Conlon (Botswana 198890)
The Word Works, Inc.
Chris Conlon was interviewed with five other Peace Corps poets in July 2001
|Reviewed by Tony Zurlo (Nigeria 196465)|
|John Gilbert at IMDB.com||
WHEN NARRATIVE SKILL AND lyrical imagination coalesce, as they do in Christopher Conlons Gilbert & Garbo In Love: A Romance in Poems, then readers are in for a delightful excursion. These sixty-six poems trace the lives of movie idols John Gilbert and Greta Garbo from early childhood to the height of their big-screen fame. Conlon presents a classically romantic but tragic view of these two Hollywood superstars. And he presents this in an imaginative, package of sensual sketches written in a natural, casual style.
In the end, however, Im most impressed by Conlons ability to unify the narrative and lyrical so comfortably together that the books major theme emerges as an integral part of the writing. The essential strength of this collection is how unobtrusively Conlon addresses the existential issues of the nature of reality and identity.
As movie stars, Gilbert and Garbo basked in the sunshine of Hollywood fame. Conlon writes in the poem Two People, that they are the two most / beautiful people on earth, ordained so / by a poll in a fan magazine. The world of movies becomes their reality. However, Conlon presents these bigger-than-life stars as constantly questioning the boundaries of reality. He writes in the poem Movies, that seeing their images on screen
The first sixteen poems portray the subjects when they were young, a time when both sought escape from harsh childhoods and had no sense of identity. Gilbert was dragged from theater to theater by his uncaring, stage-actress mother. In the poem Small, the six-year old Gilbert wants to dissolve himself, / to shrink so that he is no bigger than a puppet, / or a toy soldier, or a picture in a nickelodeon: / tiny, perfect, worthy at last of home. However, by his teenage years, Gilberts good looks made him popular, and he moved easily into silent films as an extra when he was just sixteen years old.
These two silver screen celebrities possessed opposite personalities that meshed for a short time. Gilbert was assertive in the beginning, when he was cast as a Civil War cavalryman in his first silent movie. Conlon describes Gilberts youthful boldness in Camera. Gilbert turns straight to the camera, grin gleaming / out to the world. Fire that son / of a bitch! the producer bellows, . . . He basks in the limelight of fame, discovers himself as an actor, while all the time fully mindful that he was playing to an audience. Conlon writes in the title poem, Gilbert and Garbo in Love, that Gilbert is never not aware / of the camera, his angle and lighting, his expression. Hes in the scene / but above it too, beyond it . . . However, as Gilberts fame grows, he begins to doubt himself, the film crew, Louis B. Mayer of Metro Goldwyn Mayer, and others around him. In the poem Questions, Conlon writes that Gilbert wonders, . . . are they real? / Are they actors, playing parts? / When he turns his back, do they vanish? / . . . . What, for Gods sake, is his life?
Tony Zurlo's poetry, fiction, reviews, and essays have appeared in over sixty literary magazines, newspapers, and anthologies. His nonfiction books include Japan: Superpower of the Pacific, China: The Dragon Awakes, West Africa, Daily Life in Hong Kong, China: Nations in Transition, and The Japanese Americans. His new book, Vietnam: Nations in Transition, will be published in the fall of 2003.