Case, Doug Paul. College Town.
Vatomsky, Sonya. My Heart In Aspic.
Williams, LB. The Eighth Phrase.
Porkbelly Press, 2014
Fifty million Elvis fans can’t be wrong, an old album cover argued. What constitutes good writing, comedy, television, movies, or music is a question as old as Plato and as new as the current Billboard Hot 100. Popularity is certainly an argument, since, if a sizable group of fellow humans responds emotionally to something, we aren’t so different that we can suggest that there is nothing of value there. Yet that isn’t the entire story, since in the wild democracy of media in 2015 nearly everyone has a singer or a director or a comedian who they think deserves megastardom and has not yet achieved it, or a certified celebrity whose gifts elude understanding. In a world without gatekeepers, without Farrar, Strauss and Giroux to tell me what is fine literature and what is not, how is one to tell where quality resides?
Generously provided with review copies of three fine new poetry collections, one is faced again with the same question. Case’s hard edged images of a gay man under the huge empty Midwestern skies are gritty and real, Vatomsky’s rich voice, full of images about cooking, stir the senses, and Williams tells sharp, clear stories under the roofs and in the narrow alleys of New York City and its environs. Are they better or worse than other poets? Is there is a way of scoring poetry, of saying this poem is better than that one because of this word choice or that rhyme scheme, that Robert Frost is better than Elizabeth Barrett Browning because of x, y, and z factor?
While unable to answer that question, it is noted that all three of these works are stunningly good. Case takes you to Indiana and makes you see the smoke curling from the tailpipe of the truck the frat boys drive, yelling insults as they pass. Vatomsky brings you into the kitchen, letting you smell the spices in the air and feel the fatigue of the woman at the counter, chopping celery with a broken heart. Williams shows you the commuters as they pass, each of them displaying one of the million stories of the naked city on their face. The poetry on display here is vivid and sparkling, and one doesn’t need academic qualifications or a fancy publisher’s imprint to know when one has been transported into another’s soul.