Staff Book Reviewer Spencer Dew is the author of the forthcoming novel Maintain (Ampersand Books, 2012). A regular reviewer for Rain Taxi Review of Books, Dew is the author of Songs of Insurgency (Vagabond Press, 2008), Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres (Another New Calligraphy, 2010), and the critical study Learning for Revolution: The Work of Kathy Acker (San Diego State University Press, 2011). His Web site is spencerdew.com.
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These rough-cut pieces read like very personal reflections on moments of a life, particularly moments involving funerals and cemeteries, small traumas and flashes of self-righteous indignation. So few words on a tombstone, one poem reminds us, while another recalls a memory of violence witnessed, engaged in. Then there is “Horton Hears a Who, the Movie,” a poem about the experience of watching that film, of hearing, there “In the theater / a young boy / let out an unguarded / cry of despair,” only to be shushed—seemingly—by his father. I say “seemingly,” because so much of this scene is interpretation, and interpretation with a self-righteous slant. The poet waxes regretful about “the world” and its insistence “that real men / are not sensitive,” which, sadly, sums up too much of the tone of this book, a pat declaration, a clean line drawn in tumbled free verse, a lack of ambiguity in the authorial opinion and eye. We learn that the poet is not a racist, though in establishing this there is an uncomfortably romanticized image of a Latino fellow who is no more a character in the poem that the racist neighbor whose unarticulated “derogatory comments” bring about the smug conceit of the poem.
What’s troubling about this self-righteousness is how unexamined and thus inauthentic it is. The narrator of these poems establishes his bona fides as a sensitive, non-racist sort, and expresses some of his contradictory emotions regarding the ebb and flow of romantic relationships, but the more dominant thrust here is in favor of some conception of “sensitivity,” which plays out via an oddly voyeuristic appropriation of the suffering of others or, worse, a reductive, dehumanized cartoon of “others” who are denied any chance of being real characters. The cipher that is the protagonist of “Drunk, Watching Reruns,” is no more than that, her apartment “reeking of un-refrigerated Thai” but in no other way resembling a place observed or a situation entered into via empathy and the humane perception necessary for a true poet. A cartoon staring at syndicated shows is all we’re given, and just as the scene in the movie theater reads as false, too self-assured—How does he know what the father whispered? Why default to this polemic read of “the world” out to crush “sensitive” guys?—the piece reads more like a cheap sermon than literature.
We’re told, later, why the author doesn’t write political poems, though the conception offered here is of that category is cartoonish, to say the least. What he attempts to establish is why he doesn’t write polemic poems, poems designed to restate a given ideology. If the impulse here is to reject simple lines in favor of the inherent ambiguity and humanity of literature, the impulse is good, but this collection doesn’t follow through on that impulse.
Official Jason Fisk Web Site
Official Six Gallery Press Web Site