September 29, 2010

Book: Matthew Zapruder leads poetry’s resurgence

A poet for our generation

Come on All You Ghosts
By Matthew Zapruder. Copper Canyon Press; 111 pgs., $16.

If you haven’t been paying attention, you might think poetry was limited to what you learned in school. Who could blame you for thinking that? It’s not like television talk shows devote airtime to modern poets — unless you’ve tuned in to Bill Moyers on PBS, in which case you might think all living poets are old.

No wonder a poet like Matthew Zapruder, of the infamous Generation X, could slip under so many noses. But if you look in the right places, he’s quite visible: essays for the Poetry Foundation and the L.A. Times, reams of awards, and a big fuss over his long poem, “Come On All You Ghosts,” which appeared in the Paris Review, one of the more respected literary journals.

This is all just to say that Zapruder’s “Come On All You Ghosts,” his third book of poems, comes during an age in American poetry that could arguably be called a renaissance. There are lots of young poets out there, ranging from their 20s to Zapruder’s just-over-40, but it’s Zapruder who has risen to prominence. For one, he’s certainly hip to contemporary life, and he speaks to modern readers in a language comprehensible to our particular experience: images of Jell-O, Neko Case, White Castle hamburgers and Schwinn bicycles prove common.

But he is also traditional, speaking to us through “the ancient transmission device” of poetry. His poems are little “machines made of words” that contemplate love, death, loss, the importance of memory. In short, all the great themes of literature you learned in school, barely understood, now souped-up and outfitted for today.

There are a lot of ways to write a poem, but for Zapruder, the poem is a dramatic monologue, a rendering of his thinking as he sits at his desk in the night. They are “field experiments into our private thoughts,” infused with a deep tone of melancholy, which is not to say unleavened with a sense of humor.

Take, for example, “Lamp Day,” which begins: “All day I’ve felt today is a holiday / but the calendar is blank. / Maybe it’s Lamp Day.” Then he begins a meditation on the small lamp he’s carried around for years, and the poem leaps into an exploration of memory: “On Lamp Day we try / not dreamily but systematically / to remember it all. I do it / by thinking about the hidden / reasons I love something / small.”

Then he remembers all the cities he has lived in, his memory opening like a door so that, like the lamp, he is “plugged in” to something larger than himself.

In “Paper Toys of the World,” a book by the same name initiates a meditation on beauty, of what people create in the spans of “time no one was in crisis, time no one was dying.” Or the title poem, 14 pages of meditation on, among other things, the death of his father, the ghosts of his past, and his place in the world, in which poetry is offered as a way to deal with it all, for him and us: “I have done my best to leave / behind this machine / anyone with a mind / who cares can enter.”

Though the melancholic, sighing tone can be a bit much, this is an authentic and searching voice — at once intimate and honest — that invites us in, too: “I choose to believe and choose to ask you / to believe it too.”

The honor we can afford poetry is to follow him into this world he opens for us. 


By Levi
As someone who teaches poetry to university students and others, and whose work has appeared side-by-side with that of Matthew Zapruder's, I can't say how happy I am that LEO has devoted space and resources to poetry. But, I also can't convey just how disappointed I am in the quality of Sean Patrick Hill's piece on Zapruder's Come on All You Ghosts. The article seems far to uncritical in its approach to Zapruder's work. Indeed, some would say that Zapruder's work (in the book) is overly-chatty, boringly ironic, and generally unchallenging. And though I'm sure it was entirely unintentional, the article also seems nearly patronizing, if not unengaging, in its attempt to situate and educate the average reader unfamiliar with (contemporary) poetry, making it appear as if Zapruder were breaking new ground, rather than working in a vein of poetry that has been prominent for at least the past ten years, and which clearly has its roots in the postmodernism and modernism of the last century. In fact, one could just as easily read Frank O'Hara's poems from the 1950's and 1960's and encounter an equally accessible poetry that feels "current", excited and exciting, and equally concerned with, for instance, with pop culture. And I realize that poetry is often not of interest to the general reader, and that one doesn't want to risk alienating already potentially uninterested readers, but I think it is in fact the sophistication of a given art form or mode that might attract and engage a given reader, and that a more critical approach, where the reader feels there is something At Stake, might also be more likely to hold the eye and mind of readers of LEO, while also potentially leading them to further engagement with poetry.

There are certainly numerous details like that to take into cons

By DewittLuth
You really make it seem so easy with your presentation however I in finding this topic to be really something which I think I would never understand. It kind of feels too complicated and very broad for me. I am taking a look forward for your next post, I will try to get the hang of it!

The people who love to read

By Hugh
The people who love to read poetry have already learned about him by now, although he could use a bit more media exposure. Does he know about They could help with his books publishing.