Sunday, October 17, 2010

MADE IN AMERICA by Robert M. Zoschke

A somewhat belated review

Street Corner Press
corner of Armitage & Clybourn

     I like this book a lot because it sounds like no one but the author. Zoschke doesn't pose: when he's pissed off, he's pissed off ('Bored on the Fourth of July, 2008); when he's tender, he's tender ('a dog of a poem'); and he's great at painting the Wisconsin landscape he lives in with words ('Ides of March sarong'). How often do you get that sort of range.

     He's a poet of place without the sentimentality that usually involves. We know exactly where he is -- what it sounds and smells like, who lives there with him ('the swords are in little hands'; 'are you a...';'Listen') -- and we know how he got there ('Elegy for the Pistol', among others). You could make a movie out of that last poem, no problem. It's almost an elegy for a better, bygone America.

     Rob's a poet of ideas too, maybe without wanting to be: Lawrence Ferlinghetti is quoted at the start of the book as saying, 'I'd rather be writing love poems'. The very fine and scandalously unacknowledged Dave Church is remembered in 'when the pen is the needle and the paper is the spoon', which contrasts Church's remarkable poetry with that of an English professor taking a workshop in 'rotgut academician flatulence'. Why's Dave dying at the wheel of a taxi when a poet not fit to shine his shoes thrives and prospers? Anybody who has read Church or been to a university poetry workshop will know Zoschke is telling the truth.

     But the centrepiece of 'Made in America' is the love poem he would rather be writing. 'What Matters Most' tells beautifully and forcefully of the birth of Amelia and Hannah, Rob and partner Joie's two daughters. You're there in the delivery room with them experiencing every nerve-wracking, hair-raising, heart-wrenching, joyful moment of the double birth, and the description never slips into bad taste. What a generous and brave man he must be to share the most personal experience of his life like that; and what art, not to let it get awkward for one minute.

     An extensive collection of pictures of family and friends completes the book nicely: he's a proud man and why not? Too many poets in the small press and the mainstream hide behind postures, and self-conscious trickery. As a squeamish Buddhist I could have done without so many photos of dead fish, but it's a small price to pay for these treasures.

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