I heard about Matthew Savoca on Bearcreekfeed, really liking the poems he had up there. I later noticed that Scrambler Books had released his book. I liked the cover and title and thought “I want that.”
As I waited for the book to come in the mail, walking down streets and such, a couple times I thought “Savoca… Savoca… Savoca…,” the poet’s name repeatedly ringing in my head. It’s a catchy name.
The cover and back cover have an illustration where the inked outlines are inverted white, so they blend into the white background, leaving floating blocks of color. It makes the drawing confusing to look at and makes it feel empty. The drawing depicts a towel rack, a bulletin board, leaves, and some other things difficult to make out.
The domestic imagery of the cover reflects what’s in the book. It’s a single, long poem, describing a couple that lives together. The book opens with a quote from the Japanese philosopher, Masanobu Fukuoka, that encapsulates the poet’s worldview:
“If I push myself to write something, the only thing to write is that writing is useless. It is very perplexing.”
There are sporadic illustrations inside the book, including digital drawings of plants, a graphite drawing of a lamp, and one of a dolphin. They’re, at best, tangentially related to the writing, but somehow add to the experience of reading it. This long poem could be described as an eclectic collection of thoughts, and the drawings add to that cataloging feel.
Although the poet writes about being bored, this poem isn’t boring to read. It’s very clever, having a lot of surprising twists. Some parts digress into interesting stories, such as when Savoca describes getting his pants tailored:
“sometimes i have to get pants tailored to fit me
i buy pants for three dollars at thrift stores
and take them to terrelli the tailor
who has a shop at broad and wharton
he charges seven dollars a pair
which makes my total for new pants equal to about ten
And going to a nail salon with his dad, looking for the other kind of nails:
“we parked and walked up the steps, past the neon pink sign
and when i opened the door to let my father walk through
i saw his face
and immediately understood our mistake”
There are many sentences that give me the “that’s a gem!” feeling. I started out underlining things that seemed important and realized I could underline almost anything.
Due to the writer’s distinct voice, I imagine reading this poem is fairly similar to talking to the poet in person. If I met Savoca, I would probably think, “yep, that’s Savoca alright!” then describe him to my friends later as “just a normal guy” or “he seemed like someone I would already know.” It’s concise writing, using short, colloquial sentences, but it still feels poetic, especially when the poet gets more creative in his descriptions:
“it is mating season for the pigeons
which makes them extremely stupid and oblivious
to cats that want to gift wrap them in teeth and saliva”
The poem is essentially a second-person address to the poet’s girlfriend; it’s as if he has written down his relationship’s good, bad, and ugly and delivered it as one ‘love poem,’ an homage to love and it’s many sides. The poet starts out feeling trapped in his relationship, then his love renews, then dulls once again, but he retains a reverence for life that is always present. I think this book would be insightful for single people and for people in any kind of relationship.
There’s a part where the poet describes wanting to meet the Japanese philosopher, Masanobu Fukuoka, so he could ask him what he does with his spare time. This is unsurprising, as the poet’s obsession with time permeates the book and explains why Savoca dwells on the things that he does. I feel all the writing is pulling towards one major goal in a way that is rare in a first book. I think the best part about ‘long love poem with descriptive title’ is that, while it feels contemporary and can reference pop culture, something about the voice and content makes it feel timeless.