May 2007

D. Richard Scannell

poetry

The Man Suit by Zachary Schomburg

Delightfully bewildering, The Man Suit is less a book of poems and more an unlikely conglomeration of images and ideas that manage to function beautifully as one cohesive unit. These poems and paragraphs demand to be read aloud -- both performance and text are indispensable to achieving the full effect.

The book does not waste time churning up the succession of poems before it. These poems spring forward or, when that’s not feasible, sideways. Do expect self-consciousness -- the book buzzes with solipsism, paralysis, confusion and isolation. Yet somehow the dark undercurrent that fuels this collection never extinguishes the glow of its playfulness.

Take a look at the first three poems and try to keep a straight face. In just three pages Schomburg introduces a monster that’s supposed to be telling jokes, a gorilla dressed in people clothes, a pirate, a girl wearing a large, wooden wedding cake, and a man dressed as an avocado. The tone wavers between weird, hilarious, insightful, and subtly devious.

In the first poem, “The Monster Hour,” we see a monster on stage who keeps on trying to kill the audience instead of telling jokes. The monster doesn’t seem able to control himself, so the producers replace him with a gorilla and a Wurlitzer. It’s silly, slightly baffling, yet manages to edge itself up to something very familiar and vaguely haunting.

The second poem seems serious at first. It creates a possibly artistic scene in which a man and a naked women are trying to interpret the black square painted on her stomach. Then, where another poet might have written an oblique but mysterious aphorism, Schomburg writes simply, “A pirate enters.” The message is clear. Take off the black beret and put down the expensive pinot noir. You probably couldn’t tell it apart from boxed merlot anyway.

At this point one wonders if the book is going to be spitefully irreverent, but Schomburg dispels any fears with the third poem, “The Center of Worthwhile Things,” perhaps the thesis of the entire book. A girl dressed as a wedding cake and a guy dressed as an avocado make love on a cliff over a lake, and the speaker wonders at the lack of theatrical accompaniment to life’s quiet, but unusual moments, “It was a night of being backstage I thought, where nothing held its illusion, where everything was exposed as an actor.”

The Man Suit never fully lets down its guard though. That’s its charm. It deals in oceans and islands, opera singers and owls, axe-murderers and action figures. It is a collection of inquiries into how we are supposed to deal with this man suit once we’ve put it on. When we stand in the spotlight, whether on stage or at a party full of sadists and murderers, how are we supposed to handle ourselves?

Amidst the many clever, funny, and sometimes confusing poems are a few themed chunks. One is titled only pictorially: a black telephone beside a white telephone. It is oblique, sometimes funny, sometimes vaguely satirical. By the end of the twelve pages, though, it manages to create the sensation that maybe there are mysteries patterned in the banalities and common objects of everyday life.

Another chunk of the book, “Abraham Lincoln’s Death Scene,” was previously published as a chapbook. Its sixteen paragraphs read like the script for an experimental movie made by a director who was completely unconscious of the extent to which pop culture had scrambled his creative faculties. Expect sexy legs in fishnet stockings, Siamese triplets, religious symbols, splattered blood, flames engulfing practically everything, and far too many smoking guns.

The Man Suit is more than a collection of witty poems and off-beat jokes. Schomburg has encapsulated modern life in just one hundred or so pages. The bizarre imagination that spirals through the poems wonders, creates, and feeds upon itself. By the end of the book, as the things that haunt the space between consciousness and daydream take shape, the image in “A Voice Box With Words Still In It” will bring tears to your eyes, and even if you’ve read this review, you won’t know what hit you.

The Man Suit by Zachary Schomburg
Black Ocean
ISBN: 0977770931
112 pages