Dreamlife of a Philanthropist
Dreamlife of a Philanthropist
Janet Kaplan
University of Notre Dame Press, 2011
View Master
Sarah Pape

In the new collection of prose poems and sonnets by Janet Kaplan, Dreamlife of a Philanthropist, worlds are held upside-down by their ankles, or more accurately, by their titles, and the objects and creatures drift in space at shutter speed. This realm invites the reader to become a tourist, describing moments and monuments of the imagination in parts, apprehended and then let go of as the next frame appears, as in the sonnet, "Travelogue": "A hummingbird buzzed at the tip of a paintbrush. / A cottontail cleaned itself, cat-like. A couple that didn’t speak / English pointed to a mule deer and whispered."

The kinetic pull and pacing removes the axis from the page, replacing balance with new angles, as each poem’s title rests underneath and various structural play is featured throughout. In the midst of a meditation on interconnectedness in the poem, “Enterprise,” Kaplan writes, “Surely everyone experiences a similar fear. // Of sameness. The fear leads to new ideas.” This collection does not suffer from the “sameness” of anything else, as she reworks the conventions of the sonnet, featured here as fourteen numbered sections, explorative and interdisciplinary in nature. Other authorities, such as Tolstoy and the Merriam-Webster dictionary, meander amongst her own entries on a broad topic—“Change,” “Animals,” “Meals,” etc.  In the poem, “Fourteen Lines,” Kaplan expounds on two abstract elements of the sonnet form as is stated in an epigraph by Edna St. Vincent Millay. The poem starts: “Chaos and Order shared a house of lines.” This conceit is played out through the poem, acting as an explanation for the ways these poems stretch and tear at the strict rules of form, embracing the reorganization.

Kaplan’s prose poems are filled with lyric and questioning, as in, “Horizontal Hold”:

                  Season of fists and fellow ruthlessness. And here we
                  go, not the calmest-window washers to cross the
                  green marble sea. Do you know who we are? You
                  loved us once. Even sold us a dove.

In these lines, who is “we” who go? Who is the “you” who loved us? Don’t we all want to know? Recall, if you will, the View-Master from your childhood—those blacked out faux binoculars that clicked you through a collection of images, allowing your own solipsistic imagination to fill in the story. This is the way we experience Kaplan’s poems--in each small world invented, in each abstraction comprised of our domestic accouterment, we are given an opportunity to see and name these fresh perceptions for ourselves.

Sarah Pape

Sarah Pape lives in Northern California and teaches English at California State University, Chico. Her poetry has recently been published in The Southeast Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Watershed and Cadence of Hooves: A Celebration of Horses. Her chapbook, Road Z, was published by Yarroway Mountain Press.