discover your poetic possibilities
Surrounded by Friends by Matthew Rohrer (Wave Books, 2015) is a mix of poems I love and ones I don’t get. A poem about a bicycle ride ends with “They saw a muskrat in the canal. / Then he tipped his hat to a dog”—and that confuses me. Too many pieces in this book contain random thoughts that do not seem connected to the rest of the poem, and those odd lines detract from my experience.
There were some poems and lines I really liked, though. A sampling . . .
But there are things that bother me. For example, why is the word “sad” or a version of it used no fewer than half a dozen times? Why are there three poems titled “Poem Written with Buson,” five poems titled “Poem Written with Issa,” and six poems titled “Poem Written with Basho”? Is this cleverness or laziness, both or neither?
And I’m not a fan of the font. Sometimes poetry books identify the name and history of the font used (a fabulous idea), but not here. In any case, the style and small print size do not add to the aesthetic value of the book.
All this is not to say that the book is without merit. Rohrer’s best emerges when writing about his family—grandfather, great grandmother, wife, children. Two that stand out are “The Emperor” about his wife and, my absolute favorite, “Brooklyn Is Covered in Little Pieces of Paper.” Those poems alone make me look forward to his next collection.
Java Scripture (2014) by Tony Fusco inspires laugh-out-loud moments and also contemplative reflection.
Some favorite lines . . .
Since I commented on the font in Rohrer’s books, I should tell you my eyes were much happier with the style and size of the font in Fusco’s book. However, the editor in me wanted to correct the extra spaces and the misuse of hyphens (a hyphen and en dash and em dash are different) and a few other typos. It’s one of the reasons I don’t normally review self-published books, but the poems were too good to pass up the chance to recommend his work.
Like Rohrer, it’s Fusco’s poems about his family that produce the most memorable images: “Don’t Eat the Last Braciole”; “Nonnie’s Candle”; “Pater Famillias”; “Those Who Did Not Know Him, Did Not Judge Him”; “Good to the Last Drop.” These poems stayed with me. They’ll stay with you, too.