As a pioneering rock journalist for Hit Parader, Vogue, Saturday Review, and other publications, Ellen Sander had a backstage pass to the hottest music scenes of the 1960s. She draws upon her professional and personal experiences to chronicle pop culture’s highs and lows.
The Cacophony of Rapture is an ongoing riddle which does not precisely disclose its solution, but entices the reader across a path of angst, discovery and music. Gil Helmick drafted these poems in 2020, when he was writer in residence in L’ALBA: Maison des Talents Partagés in Charleroi, Belgium, an arts and performance center created and operated by singer, producer and musician Melanie DeBiasio. Helmick had previously collaborated on a number of noted music projects with her. As borders closed during the pandemic, Helmick returned to Portland Maine, where he quarantined at his home and completed the book.
A renowned musician himself, Helmick lavishes musicianship on the poems. The Cacophony of Rapture is a suite in two movements, replete with riveting lyric tension (cacophony) and improvisational abandon (rapture). The first movement is titled 20/20, an ironic reference to a year of contradiction, danger and enforced time to attend individual creative endeavors. In “i pray for magical thinking,” music enters the picture with “the double bass, dozing and key bored, now as convincing as a bass clarinet,” and later, this stunningly rhapsodic insight on the lifeblood of Art:
Some poems, like “lay your ear to the rail” beg musical accompaniment, others, like “wild and wise” are clearly song lyrics and elicit an unique melody from each reader’s imagination.
So much of this collection reminds me of old times of staying up all night with friends and libations exhuming the errors and pitfalls of the world and how they can be healed. Helmick favors litany and anaphora in his skilled poetics, conjuring chant-like motifs that linger during and after the remarkable experience of reading this collection. He engages a number of references, including Nathaniel Hawthorne, Joseph Conrad, Richard le Gallienne, quotes from T.S. Eliot and Carl Sagan, Leonard Cohen (copiously quoted), Talking Heads, Mark Knopfler and the Everly Brothers—in quirky forays into the nature of boxes, of beauty and kelp.
From “on thin ice, might as well dance” (which is more the title of the book than the title itself):
The center break in the book is a 1995 excerpt from Carl Sagan, anticipating the “dumbing down” of America and a “kind of celebration of ignorance.” It prefaces a more profound temperament, the spine of which is an extended (15 pages) poem “my name is silence,” a deep dive into clandestine worldwide powers, their specific aspirations of concealment, betrayal and control.
The title poem, “cacophony of rapture” is a map of Helmick’s inquiry and a fitting illumination of this volume’s depth and aspirations. “rapture is a road worn from travel” is an echo of an earlier poem from 20/20, “a road ruined.” It seems like another version of the same poem, an odd, but courageous choice. As is the shared theme:
“rapture is a road worn from travel” also references “tilt,” an earlier poem, quoting the refrain “we’ve lost the meaning of the word tilt,” and, as if to solidify the essence and weltanschauung of these poems, we have “tilt, a sequel”:
reiterating the helix of cohesion these poems of revelations, love and doom achieve.
Pithy vignettes, rich in fond detail, add vibrancy to the mix. From “the footbridge from a parallel universe”:
Gil Helmick challenges you into his realm of “free jazz,” a designation he uses throughout in different contexts (“the free jazz of karma,” “the free jazz of heresy,” “the free jazz of evolution”), into a concert that requires engagement to experience. The rewards of this challenge are various and lasting: a sense of companionship, ingenious wordsmithery and sequencing, a reconciliation, as the title promises, of uproar and art.