NPJ Book Review: The Abyss by Geza Tatrallyay

Review by John Curl


Geza Tatrallyay’s new collection, The Abyss, offers a rich cycle of poems and haiku transporting the reader with awe and wonder at the natural world around us and inside us, through love and family, into confrontation with the forces of destruction threatening our world and everything we care about. In the end, The Abyss offers us a visionary ball of string to follow through the dark labyrinth of destruction and guide us back out into the light.

These poems explore the meaningful pleasures of this flesh we inhabit in this complex paradise we are destroying through our own success as a species. How do we learn to live constructively in the midst of the threats that we ourselves have created?

The book launches with a vision of the wild and fragile beauty that surrounds us. The crescent moon guides the poet through the night. Spring awakes the world like a snake shedding its skin. The perfect beauty even in a spider’s web, nature’s amazing death trap. He comes upon a dead phoebe and muses whether anyone will miss him when he’s gone. A thunderstorm bursts then is over. Lilacs bloom. A foghorn sounds in the darkness, both warning and assuring at the same time.

One of my favorite poems is Afterlife, where he envisions his body becoming nourishment for trees, an ultimate life-after-death which continues giving meaning to this life. He asks, “Is this the afterlife all living things die for?” But even this is threatened by the extinction of trees, the murder of life as we know it, through human abuse.  He dares to ask a dreaded question: if we continue destroying the planet, will there even “still be trees for my body to nourish”? Or “will my chemicals just seep into the earth, uselessly, like the life we live, with no purpose?”

Two pivotal poems are, “This is not a happy country” and “Fake rhetoric.” In the first, the poet rips off the prettified mask of this society and finds a place “where an uncaring few govern / to enrich themselves and their friends.” In the second poem, he looks back at history as a cautionary tale, fears that “we are reliving Weimar Germany, the rise of Hitler and Mussolini,” and dreads where this might lead:  “will this be Stalin’s U.S.S.R?”

The title poem, The Abyss, appreciates the fecund meaningfulness of living life in all its fleshly pleasures, which may be all we have in this world. The poet stares into nihilistic meaninglessness, into nothingness, and urges us to transcend suicide. He appreciates the deep fleshly connections of family love, the immortality of living on in the memory of family and loved ones. He muses on “The nightmare of nihil    that incorporeal, / non-sentient status, where the body decays /  and one barely exists / inthe minds of loved ones / and only till they die, / or perhaps as a name engraved on a tombstone, / a row of letters, / the rich lifeforgotten, / all washed away by time— that is everyone’s fate.”

He looks at violence in the world, and finds that people continually “find reasons to kill other beings / To justify our murdering instinct / Instead of existing in peace with them.” In place of the constant violence that defines much of daily life in this country today, he urges, “America, give up your guns: Why can’t you love your fellow man?” He offers an alternative vision of working together so this country someday lives up to the vision of America that in many places we still teach to our children: ” to createa country / that welcomes all mankind.”

In the end, the poet carries us through to the solution through the power of language and the art of poetry. He urges us to fight back against the forces of destruction, to struggle to save our world and, at the same time, to “live out this dream / hedonistically, / enjoy it while you can!”