I first encountered the poetry of Djelloul Marbrook when, completely at random, I stopped by one of those bourgeois conference rooms at AWP. I sat down in the back row, slightly cynical and hung over, then looked up and spotted the reader: this white-bearded guy I didn’t recognize. I remember he was smiling slightly, as though enjoying some secret, benevolent joke while everyone around him chatted and networked. I don’t recall ever forming an opinion about someone so quickly—or so accurately—but even at first glance, Marbrook exuded wit and wisdom, a sense that here (at last, at last!) was someone whose impressive academic intelligence decries pretension and celebrates humanity.
Obviously, that impression was only bolstered when he stood up and shared his poems with us. I bought his first book, Far From Algiers, read it cover-to-cover in short order, and made it my business to follow this man’s impressive, eclectic career. I also contacted him to let him know of my fondness for his work; while there are plenty of writers out there who respond curtly to “fan mail,” if they respond at all, Marbrook answered as though we were already old friends—though that wonderful sense of blunt cordiality seems to be a facet not just of his personality, but his poetry, including the fine poems included here.
“Ringing satisfaction” is the perfect illustration of Marbrook’s range and style. Despite being a fairly short poem (only ten lines), it deftly blends humor and poignancy; then, in the final three lines, it goes further still by knocking down the fourth wall—a risky maneuver in any art form but one that functions here, I think, because of Marbrook’s distinctive wit working in combination with his slightly Whitmanesque syntax (“but in your distrust study…” rather than “study in your distrust,” or earlier, “It was an act of such perfection I could be proud of it” instead of “I was proud of her act of perfection…”).
“For all I know” takes the previous stylistic traits and adds to them the clever implementation of line breaks and double meanings (“I remember nothing of former lives except the details…”). What I find most impressive about Marbrook’s work, though, is the uncanny ability he demonstrates throughout all of these poems to address weighty, philosophical and metaphysical subject matters without falling prey to the blandness that often results from too much exposition. These are crafted poems, yes, but they’re also deeply mortal—and in that sense, even at their darkest points, they remain wryly, unapologetically celebratory.
About Djelloul Marbrook:
Djelloul Marbrook’s first poetry book, Far from Algiers (2008, Kent State University Press) won the 2007 Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize and the 2010 International Book Award in poetry. His second book of poems is Brushstrokes and Glances (2010, Deerbrook Editions). Guest Boy, book one of the Light Piercing Water fiction trilogy (2012, Mira Publishing House, UK), debuted at the London Book Fair in April 2012 and is available on Amazon. “Artists’ Hill,” an excerpt from book two of the trilogy, won the 2008 Literal Latté first prize in fiction. His other novels are Saraceno (2012, Bliss Plot Press, available in paper, ebook, and audio); Artemisia’s Wolf (2011, Prakash Books, India), and Alice Miller’s Room (1999, OnlineOriginals.com, UK). His poems have been published by American Poetry Review, Barrow Street, Orbis (UK), From the Fishouse, Oberon, Meadowland Review, Northport Journal, The Same, Reed, The Ledge, Poemeleon, Fledgling Rag, Daylight Burglary, Le Zaporogue (France), and others.