With impressively unconventional language, Timothy Donnelly’s The Cloud Corporation explores the inextricable conflict accompanying the acquisition of knowledge and the act of thinking. Many of the book’s poems read like the experience of peering into the mind of someone who spends extensive periods of time alone, musing on the philosophy of the everyday. Donnelly’s speaker often expresses a desire for passiveness—to be removed from the process of thought altogether—or demonstrates an attempt to rationalize spiritual thought and themes with his bleaker version of reality. The poet takes the language and ideas of the spiritual for a fresh spin, even rewriting certain biblical stories to fit with a more modern perspective of commerce and industry. In “Chapter for Breathing Air Among the Waters,” Donnelly epitomizes this prevailing uncertainty of knowledge:
but caught up in what thinking
tries to conceal:
made of clouds, an anchorage
in sinking down where to know
is to feel knowledge dissolving
into particles of pause, the many
Throughout the collection, there is a resistance to the tenuousness of thought—the foundation of knowledge is as fragile as the clouds in the sky, which appear to have substance, but represent instead an elaborate illusion. Thinking is what we do to avoid what might happen when we stop.
In Donnelly’s poems, there is often a deep chasm between the self and others, best exemplified perhaps by a poem where objects take on life more than most humans in the book, and the speaker relates to their makers in this fashion. The notion of an inherent chasm and the related struggle is prevalent throughout these poems. Wisdom, spirituality, and existence—among other overarching themes—are consistently at odds. “Intellectual activity / removes us briefly from the swelter of existence,” Donnelly writes in “No Diary,” emphasizing the mundaneness of existence, a poem which goes on to decry the inability to place intrinsic value on simply being. In this sense, the poet often fuses the philosophical with the commercialized, a notion which is depicted in the book’s title. The collection’s title explicitly depicts a corporatizing of that which is most impossible to render commercial.
Continuing with the idea of a struggle Donnelly writes, “even though I have come / through long experiment to abhor being / nothing terrifies me more than the prospect of it stopped.” These lines exemplify the speaker’s attitude about a sort of limbo of existence—the equal but opposing terrors of thinking/existing and ceasing to exist. This constant push and pull of life and conscious thought is demonstrated in the recurrent image of trying to breathe underwater, a struggle characteristic of many of Donnelly’s poems.
At times lonely and fatalistic in tone, this collection exudes its fair share of humor as well. Many of Donnelly’s poems are strikingly clever and well-executed, despite occasional wordiness (a laborious run-on enjambed across several line breaks here or there), heavy-handedness, or esotericism. While Donnelly’s speaker is wont to lay the blueprints for a dystopian society, decry the inherent fleetingness of irretrievable memories, or, in one of the collection’s most remarkable poems, openly mock the superficiality of the placating powers of religion, the collection does not allow itself to indulge too much in its own pessimism, complicating certain presumptions with well-placed and intelligent allusion or historical reference. The Cloud Corporation is not a book to be read lightly, as the poet puts a lot of faith in the reader. Donnelly should also be applauded for his collection’s formal qualities and variations. Overall, The Cloud Corporation is a very impressive and intelligent collection, which must be approached with the proper care and attention for maximum appreciation.