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Poetry: Elegy for a Young Poet

Song To The Mountain is a collection of poems by Gustavo Brillembourg, which was published in 1995, two years following Brillembourg’s death at the age of 35 during a rock-climbing accident. Only 750 copies have been published by his family; finding one, then, requires a bit of sleuthing. In a time when many writers aim their work to the fleeting fascination of the public and critical circle, it is refreshing to come upon a body of poems perhaps not intended to appeal to new readers, but rather to deepen the understanding of a poet to those few who already know his work. In the words of David Shapiro found in the epilogue of Song To The Mountain, “We do not know the Poet, except through the stresses of his spoken word.…In the age of the inflation of writing, there is a voice here.”

Brillembourg acknowledges in his poetry the dualities he faced in his life, accepting its sadness and contradictions. Sifting through environments, relationships and deaths, he uses his poems to reconcile the opposition between sorrow and serenity. Following in the tradition of poets such as William Carlos Williams and Wallace Stevens, a doctor and a lawyer respectively, Brillembourg pursued a professional career as a tax lawyer in New York City, writing in his spare time. He also weaves Spanish and English together throughout his work, manipulating the language in order to address his connection to and sense of loss for his Latin American roots. What is clear is that he shakes hands with the incongruities in life and emerges with conviction and contentment.


The city of the eternal spring, they call it. It rings visions
My own New England bred
Soul cannot grasp.
For me it haunts. For me it
Is the memory of some long ago,

My past lives that tear
With the force of hundreds.

They stalk my soul.
I wish to breathe your fire.
I wish to take joy in the sun
Of its confusion.

While many of Brillembourg’s poems read with clear expression, many leave the reader gracefully entangled in an affecting world of surreal language. Brillembourg uses his acute sense of observation for landscape and identity with nature, to create a stillness, a pause in many of his poems. In “Where the Tides Do Not Know that the Moons Exist,”he writes about an impossible place that is motionless.

I tell you there is a place in the world That is slow and round, and is the ocean,

But where the salt does not pulse,
And the sand does not slide with the surf,
And the blue does not change nor vibrate
As if the land did not lie close…

In “The Fall/A Song,” he compresses moments of a frenzied rock-climbing fall into a calm and standing moment, “I was looking down when he fell in his serenity”.…

The place was still. I searched For those eyes, that brilliance. I tore at the snow, the blocks, the
Jumble. I listened for a voice,

I sat desperate in the snow.

And the mountain was his. And an ocean Had sprung up between us, and I wanted to hold him, to talk of movements,
Of flat places as only a few hours ago.
And I cried.

The book is composed of various elegies and homages, both melancholic and hopeful. However, this book of poetry is itself an elegy, celebrating his experiences. His poems profess an enthusiasm and appreciation for the limited years of his life.


Erin Durant


The Brooklyn Rail

NOV 2005

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