An Invisible Giraffe. A Pyramid of Glass. A Development At Once Revealing and Occluding: Timothy Donnelly’s The Cloud Corporation


Rumpus Poetry Book Club advisory board member Gabrielle Calvocoressi on why she chose Timothy Donnelly’s The Cloud Corporation to be the group’s September selection.

In the third installment of this discussion I will detail the things Timothy Donnelly and Jay-Z have in common. For now I feel I should begin simply by saying this book is beautiful.

What does that mean? And does it matter? To me, it does. Particularly when I can also say The Cloud Corporation is one of the most challenging and breathtakingly original books of poems I’ve read in years. It’s worth saying these things from the get go because this is also what one might call a “hard” book. Like our last selection, (Shane Book’s Ceiling of Sticks) this is a book to be read from beginning to end. Not because the poems themselves aren’t individually striking but because this is a book that truly accumulates to something and gives its reader the great gift of being an active part of that accumulation, both critically and emotionally.  In a period where we see so many books of poems that one might consider “projects” (I list my first book among them) it is inspiring to see a book that is unified by language that is playful, formally rigorous and deeply invested in not telling us the specific story that might make this a project instead of a world.

Which is to say, this is the best book about the effects of 9/11 that I have read. Because it is a book about capitalism and desire and devastation and the fact that before the buildings came down they were still a symbol of our longing and our rage and our great hopes for ourselves and each other. Donnelly does the brave thing, he fills the book with the ghost of history so the haunting becomes an instrument that pressures all that is actually said. Those buildings are never strictly spoken of and yet:

The clouds part revealing a congregation of bodies
united into one immaterial body, a fictive person
around whom the air is blurred with money, force

from which much harm will come,  to whom my welfare
matters nothing. I sense without turning the light
from their wings, their eyes; the preen themselves

on the fire escape, the windowsill, their pink feet
vulnerable—a mistake to think of them that way.
          — from “The Cloud Corporation” section 6

and yet:

       Item. I stand before me
in a haze where people

can be made to want to
      make people stand
precariously on boxes,

arms wide open, strange
      hood pulled down
over human faces, little live

wires hooked to various
      parts of the bodies
ridden on like donkeys,
             — from, “Partial Inventory of Airborne Debris”

This is a book of reverberations.  We move from poems that use as source material the Egyptian Book of the Dead to tercets composed of selections from the USA PATRIOT ACT and Bruce Springsteen’s, “Born to Run.” We recognize some of the language in this book, sometimes we just know the tune. In this way we are forced to interrogate not merely our own act of readership but also our complicity in the events that move behind these poems. Which is to say, this book asks a great deal of us.

For days I have been reading and rereading The Cloud Corporation. I’ve been thinking a lot about the word, “Citizen.” This book is comprised of four parts. As I will discuss in the coming weeks there is a logic to each section, a natural progression of tone, questions are asked and often answered.  In that way the book is as rational as the systems it details. At the same time everything is coming apart. There is heartbreak and dread and “I think it might be a good idea if you leave the radio/on all the time now. The torrents keep building up/against a barrier far too fatigued to withstand much/more…”[1] We want things. We sit in our cubicles and cars and dream. We go to work.  We vote for products and people. One day everyone’s world seems to come apart all at once. And then we can’t look away anymore or if we do we’re doing it consciously. We are citizens, meaning we are “of” a place, meaning we are the form and the function. It’s an American book in the most complicated and beautiful sense of that word.

In the following weeks I’m going to keep talking about The Cloud Corporation. I’ll start the week out with a new topic: history, memory, Walt Whitman, sampling and the new old sound. We’ll see. I’m excited to hear what everyone has to say and hope the message boards light up. We’ll talk to Timothy at the end of the month. We also have the great gift of his editor, Matthew Zapruder, being among us. So that’s a good discussion to have.  More than anything I hope we’ll spend this month pushing into this book that will most certainly push back.

Hope to hear from everyone soon.


[1] From, “Dream of the Overlook.”

Gabrielle Calvocoressi is the author of The Last Time I Saw Amelia Earhart, Apocalyptic Swing, and Rocket Fantastic. Calvocoressi's poems have been published or are forthcoming in numerous magazines and journals including The Baffler, the New York Times, POETRY, Boston Review, Kenyon Review, Tin House, and the New Yorker. Calvocoressi is an editor-at-large at Los Angeles Review of Books, and poetry editor at Southern Cultures. Calvocoressi teaches at UNC Chapel Hill and lives in Carrboro, NC, where joy, compassion, and social justice are at the center of their personal and poetic practice. More from this author →