Pick up most any poetry journal or magazine from the past 50 years and you’ll meet at least two, possibly 50, poems of mild observation, event or anecdote – the crushed roadside raccoon, the carrot steaming in the pot, grandfather’s rheumy eyes. One reaches the end of the poem with unbearable ennui, and hastens to the next page, fingers crossed for a more enlightening guide.
Quite a few of Jeff Latosik’s poems start out on (not metrically) similar feet. Moving through a house, playing guitar, sliding a hand inside his parka, checking a bump on his knee. These are openings to poems from his 2018 collection Dreampad, but Latosik has an interesting and inquisitive mind which is able to branch off in many directions from such humble sources. Time and space are the author’s primary considerations. Nothing ever ‘begins’ in the usual generative sense, anyway, and Latosik’s observations are fascinating to follow as they link to concurrent and disparate thought patterns, time loops, and speculative outcomes based on shifts in spatial possibility. This may begin to sound like sci-fi tomfoolery, but only to the unimaginative, obtuse, or stubbornly prosaic. There is much to latch onto here, and, far from the emotional plastic landfill of an Adam Dickinson, Latosik’s ruminations often run parallel with wise sadness, cautious acceptance, and transitive joy.
The anecdote’s usual goal, in a standard poem, is a set-up for the reassuring – or, at least, hopeful – epiphany, boring and solemn as an Oral Roberts telethon. The religiose comparison is also apt in that the reader is asked to join the writer, through an emotional sales job, in hazy communal faith. Latosik undercuts all that malarkey. “To know that no one and nothing is coming” begins “Oath of an Unaffiliated Boy Scout”. How’s that for immediate black irony? But progression is still possible, through reversal: “To know it will take many years but might not”, “To know there’s no bedrock but still agree”, and “To live, for as long as you can, in the difficulty”. There’s a church I could get used to attending! But what’s a church without good music?
Latosik’s wayward thought processes wouldn’t seem to be suitable for formal designs, but, moreso that in his first two volumes, Dreampad is notable for internal rhyme, close-shouldered assonantal comparisons, and chiming unrhymed gerunds. As well, he relaxes into a more personal mode, which helps to relieve abstract congestion that tended to mar some of the poems from his first two collections. Here, to illustrate, are just a few passages, but there are many standout poems throughout: “[y]ou’re met,/ as ever, by the range of choices your qualm half fits,/a cache of wants crushed on a touchpad of options/that feel as though they’ve been free-floating//and present forever.” (“Troubleshoot”); “But what I am now can’t/be made real to whoever was once lying there.” (“Silverado”); “It wasn’t a place, but you could go there.” (“The Internet”); “spike the microphones in the grass/so no one sings; and spin again the giant carousel/I must step off to just see anything.” (“The Bright Note”).