Kathleen Rooney. Robinson Alone. Gold Wake Press. 2012. 132 pages. $12.95. ISBN: 9780983700142.
Kathleen Rooney’s Robinson Alone is a collection of short poems that tell the tale of Robinson, a man based off a character in Weldon Kees’ poem “Robinson,” a poem which describes a man’s dog observing his master’s house once “Robinson has gone.” Following the character Kees created to a tee, Rooney takes us through Robinson’s life from his “middlewest” beginning to his stints in New York, California, and various road trips throughout the United States. Rooney brings to life Kees’ character from “Robinson” and gives him a life that is so real it can be easy to forget that Robinson is not a real person.
Coming from the “middlewest” myself, I could understand Robinson’s intense desire to leave the place exhibited in the poem “Robinson’s Hometown.” In this poem Robinson retained his desire to return to his hometown once he left, a sentiment I found to be incredibly accurate. As my history teacher once said, “The Midwest is the kind of place you miss.” Of course, Robinson would have his moment of exultation once outside the limits of his small town, but regardless of who you are or what your personality, the Midwest will creep its way back into your thoughts, leaving a melancholy that I found in Rooney’s book. It is easy to show one’s desire to leave. It is much harder to ingrain in a piece an inexplicable longing for an escaped hometown.
After Robinson’s move to New York City, the best characterization of the Midwest’s pull is when in “Robinson’s Parents Have Come to the City for a Visit” Robinson’s parents visit and “Bells in the tower of the church next door bellow the hour./The Our Father pops into his head unbidden; he’s not a pray-er.” The repercussions of his parents’ visit can be seen immediately after the visit in the following poem, “Robinson Sends a Letter to Someone.” Robinson takes a break from the city. We can see Robinson grappling with his desire to both be away from and return home in lines like, “Robinson/desires-& tires of-the semi-/constant public performance/required,” “Late of NYC, he’s really/from the late Great Plains, the great/American desert, the sea of grass/that has no real sea,” and, even in one of the final poems, “Out West,/in the hinterlands, no one/ever walks. But after work,/Robinson’s a one-man parade.”
Rooney did such a good job of capturing this unattainable sentiment that her Robinson immediately resonated with me, and it was not until writing this review that I knew why. This collection is perfect for anyone born of the Midwest, though I doubt coasters could fully understand the sentiments, having not grown up in the distinct salt-of-the-earth, bread basket culture that is hard to pin down and entirely unique to the American Midwest. Robinson’s story is both ordinary and vastly intriguing, one that everyone should discover.