Laid Bare: An Article on Grand Rapids' Own Robert VanderMolen

   Expression is truly a human endeavor, whether it’s expression of regret, of happiness, of completion, or if it’s expression of something that can’t quite be pinned down: expression for the need of peeling back veneer and cracking life open. Robert VanderMolen’s poems are these sorts of expressions—they are laid naked, without explanation or need for it. The poetry of Robert VanderMolen is not for the weak of comfort. His themes, often mature in nature, will bring you to a place bewildering, wondrously empowering, overwhelming with intimacy, or if you’re lucky, all of the above. 
   Like parts of Gary Snyder’s poem “The Bath,” Robert VanderMolen’s poetry is full of powerfully revealing lines that force the reader to see the thoughts of a human, the little lingering ones that show our true character, our true intent or silliness. Through this, the poet highlights not only how trivial our thoughts can be, but also how their triviality reveals a common thread of human existence. 
   Take for instance the poem “The Tornado” in his book Circumstances. This poem opens with the stanza “The tornado killed 27 people in the supermarket/When the walls blew out and part of the roof/Settled on top of them” and continues with describing how he was in the cellar, hiding with his grandmother, pining for the neighbor girl. The reader finds out in the second to last line that this neighbor girl was in the supermarket when it collapsed, and in the following line, VanderMolen ends the poem with “I was also thinking of fish for a change for dinner.” The abrupt disconnect in tone at the end of this poem pulls back the curtain on the character’s thoughts, and shows how these moments of our own unawareness can be quite profound in hindsight. 
    And hindsight strides out from these poems also. From his book Breath, VanderMolen lays out artful declarations of the futility of fighting with the past. It can be drawn from his poem “Up North” that VanderMolen is facing the past, speaking of regret riding “down like a giant sliver/with leaves and small twigs.” Yet VanderMolen downright smirks at that regret, declaring “Myself, I prefer white pine.” His attitude is admirable and playful, leaving the reader almost snickering a bit at the end. 
    This is the beauty of VanderMolen’s poetry—he is afraid of little when it comes to it, and his lack of fear, portrayed by his genuine honesty and forthrightness, is what is both interesting and encouraging about it. While his poems are generally mature, and the raw humanity and intimacy may initially turn some readers off, those who grasp the unique perspective will easily soon fall in love with everything else, and they will be swept away by how much his poems harmonize with the human condition.


Works by Robert VanderMolen

Through the 3rd Eye was supported in its inception by the Grand Rapids Humanities Council and is currently made possible by continued volunteer effort and private support. Copyright 2013.