Pino Coluccio’s Class Clown is a competent volume of poetry. I mean that in senses good and bad. The iambs bop along like a crisp military parade; the rhymes arrive with metronomic regularity. But admirable prosody can only take a poem so far. Especially with the staggeringly fecund repositories of hard formal verse, a poem – even a stanza – set to that tune better have a twist or ten in its concomitant content. In Class Clown, the concerns (regret, aging, loss, failure) have been handled – from Hardy to Larkin – with far more nuance and complexity. The poems’ sonic wellsprings, then, emit only surface echo, and are quickly folded back into their sources.
Surely, the reader may say, there are many exceptions and surprises. This is only apparent. Take “A Toronto Bike Courier Foresees His Death”, the last stanza of which is repeated below:
I tallied every big what if.
It was a quick and easy math
to pedal from a beta’s life
towards an alpha’s metal death.
Tough fate, no? But the click-and-clack pattern works aside the neutral tone to create an emotional effect as tragic as a ripped cuticle. This is mild entertainment, accomplished, more wit than passion, ultimately a series of exercises plotted and filled in. The narrator, despite various personae, houses a consistent personality, and is of the light ABAB world-weary wisdom-dispensing type. The theme is the trampled one of regret for risks, even modest actions, not undertaken in youth, and, with that, a depression over old age and an unlived life: (“To a happy past and sad,/and to one I never had.”, from “Bow Tie”). A book to appreciate, not one to get you to think too much or to feel too intensely.