By Jason Jordan
Robbie Q. Telfer’s Spiking the Sucker Punch, a slim, 96-page volume of poetry, is his second collection but first with Write Bloody Publishing. Armed with a clever title and fascinating cover, Telfer’s 2009 effort is a solid installment.
While “The Foam”–think The Blob–is the first poem that halfheartedly grabs my attention, it’s not until “Bear Baiting,” on page 23, that I’m truly captivated. So yes, Spiking the Sucker Punch starts weak, which I blame on subject matter and occasionally diction, but gradually improves. For instance, after “Bear Baiting,” about bear/dog fights in Elizabethan England, there’s the superb “Chicago Public Sculpture #1: The Bean”:
Twelve seagulls sit atop you
as if they collectively decided
to lay this magic reflective misshapen
egg. This is unconfirmed, though they
have definitely decided collectively to
poop on you. This is confirmed.
This is the point at which Telfer’s humor blossoms, and what’s so gratifying about the humor is that it’s unexpected, in most cases, as a poem such as “Like Staring into a Freaky Time-Mirror” illustrates. StSP contains a wide range of topics and themes, touching on everything from the author’s discontent with aspects of Chicago (“Mental Graffiti: Another Chicago Poem”) to his high school days, poignantly evidenced in “Awkward Scars”:
I knew a kid in high school
who was cut across the stomach
by a bear while he was sleeping in a tent–
he knew this made him a badass
and he acted like one, too.
Though there’s a serious tone to portions of “Awkward Scars,” he rarely allows it to occupy the forefront for long:
The roof of a bank
blew off and landed on me
in the passenger seat of a Chevy Suburban.
If I hadn’t been slouching
I would have had my skull crushed.
It was the first and last time
I’ve driven in a tornado watch.
It was also the first and last time
a fucking bank landed on my head.
Needless to say, there are other highlights (“We Are Devo”) and lowlights (“Song of the Outlaw Grizzly”), but I believe the former make the latter worth sifting through. At the very least, Telfer has a distinctive, witty voice, and Spiking the Sucker Punch is an unpredictable testament to that.