To sum up in one tidy line the first published collection of Brendan McBreen’s poetry, “Cosmic Egg,” is a tough assignment.
Crack open the egg, you’ll see why.
Here be talking manatees complaining about all the Elvises in the world, countering their human interlocutors’ anger at all the evils in the world. And the poet’s conclusion: “It was clear/we were talking at cross porpoises.”
A poem about tulips that endure long after the home they outlined and prettied up has disappeared.
And one about “Snodgrass,” who was “the type of man/who suddenly explodes/into burning pits of ash and sulphur/without even e-mailing anyone.”
Here are forms long and short, poems at turns whimsical and deadpan, absurdist, abstract and historical, scientific and personal, touching on subjects as varied and untranslatable as the poet himself.
Poems that stop you in your tracks with blinding flashes of insight.
“All that, and flat-out funny,” said Auburn Poet Laureate and friend Marjorie Rommel.
Which is to say that McBreen, a workshop facilitator and poet with Striped Water Poets in Auburn, is no one-note Johnny.
“One of the problems I have with my poetry is there are so many different themes,” McBreen said. “I don’t have quite enough of any one theme to make a book out of it.”
A dilemma for McBreen’s friend Lana Ayers, publisher at Moonpath Press in Tilamook, Ore. It was she who finally married the boggling variety of subject matter to the title “Cosmic Egg,” after an ancient myth that holds the universe hatched from a cosmic egg.
“She managed to grab a little bit of everything to make it make sense as a whole. So it’s just like a cosmic egg – there’s a whole universe in that book,” said McBreen.
According to the book, McBreen’s a surrealist, a Seahawks fan, a “life-long collector of weirdness,” a student of Zen and Taoist philosophy, a collage artist and an admirer of crows and cats whose work has made it into journals and anthologies, and, he says, is known for making occasional appearances on restroom stalls.
Even he can’t always pin down what he’s written to a rational meaning, but that doesn’t mean his poems say nothing, have no story, do not grip you.
“He gives us more space to think with within than any of us do, and he does it really well,” said Rommel.
“There is an emotional connection, but it’s rather abstract,” he said. “I did a series of poems responding to Tarot cards, and there’s a lot of those in there, and I made up my own tarot cards and made poems for those. I did a series of poems following Albert Einstein quotes, and there’s some science fiction in there,” adding that he was careful to ensure that Einstein himself actually said those things.
Although the poems in “Cosmic Egg” represent a time span of about a decade, most of them are more recent, reflecting McBreen’s experimentation and growing mastery of techniques.
“I pick and choose techniques I like. Like Welsh consonant replications and the patterns of consonants,” said McBreen, the son of Pacific Poet Laureate Gerald McBreen. “I focus on that for awhile. Nothing I write deliberately makes any sense, but it kind of internalizes, and I find a lot of my free writing has consonants repeating. Then I pick up on something else like Haiku and Haiku techniques, juxtaposition techniques where you’re not really saying anything, just comparing images. So it’s a little bit of everything that I incorporate.”
McBreen, a 1998 Auburn Riverside High School graduate, later attended Green River College, the University of Phoenix and Monash University in Australia. He is a regular attendee of poetry and literary events, and has taken classes presented by many notable writers, among them Elizabeth Austen, former Washington State Poet Laureate Kathellen Flennicke and Jack McCarthy.