Jacob Smullyan’s Dribble, a cycle of 144 poems written in 1983 in a few weeks of intense concentration, sets itself the task of exploring a peculiar, seemingly unpromising corner of poetic space. Its starting point is the grotesquerie of Symbolist poets like Aloysius Bertrand and Albert Giraud, and Dribble itself often reads like a parodic, somewhat stilted translation, hovering between a rigidly formal poetic diction with a bobbing cadence at times oddly reminiscent of Edward Lear, and a flat, pancake-like recitative. That such a heavy prosiness should intrude with an almost physical presence is of a piece with its apparent subject matter: self-mortification, the obscenity of physicality, shit, innards, foodstuffs, and a reeking sexuality never far removed from disgust. Or, it might be more precise to say, these are the elements of Dribble’s vocabulary. For what is said by Dribble, if such a work can be said to say anything, is quite different from what its monstrous image repertoire might lead one to believe. Its surreal mechanisms, by which the derangement of sense becomes ordinary, reveals new paths through experience, and in this new world, discredited matter, impelled by a powerful transcendental yearning, takes on new meaning and form; soul arises from the mire.
Exhausting, grotesque, cathartic, and yet not without tenderness, Dribble is perhaps best described in its own terms:
… an ether
for the damned and the needy,
a sweetened bile which the electrified
muscle accepts with sweating submission,
the gut’s corrosive weeping.