American Busboy
American Busboy
Matthew Guenette
The University of Akron Press

Matthew Guenette has a complicated relationship with kitschy seafood restaurants, but that’s what makes his collection warm and rich, like melted butter.   Guenette’s poems in American Busboy form an attitude-filled collection that takes an in depth look at working class America, a rare occurence in contemporary poetry.  These poems turn monotonous tasks into interesting tasks and fry cooks into rock stars.  Guenette’s is an exciting, even inspiring voice; you’ll feel temptations to shout this collection, beginning to end, from rooftops.  Just take off your lobster bib first.

Here are some lines from “National Ice Cream Sandwich Day” that well represent Guenette’s voice:

         When will management
         get as serious about syntax
         as syntax is serious
         about management?
         About the philisophical
         implications of boiling
         lobsters alive?
         About the cooks
         prepping your meal
         in a balloon of speed metal?

What begins as a minor critique about language arrangement eventually eases into a more widespread dismissal of the seafood restaurant industry, with the crosshairs aimed directly at career types and customers.

Guenette, in a sometimes-sad, sometimes-angry, and almost-always-funny way, speaks to the bottom line that we often look past the people that suffer to make places like The Clam Shack!, a restaurant that “drags its tired butt, but /never shuts its smack-talk mouth,” possible.  Guenette forces the reader to see the unacknowledged people bussing tables as, well...people:

         The busboy about to train me
         smoking pot at the edge of
         the dock kept his lessons sharp.
         The busboy about to train
         me: tying back his glorious
         mullet, explained essential
         aspects of the busboy matrix.
People who have worked in the food industy can identify with the type of lessons a busboy learns, like how to:

         Save your pennies for
         that asshole on
         the turnpike who rides
         your bumper like a clown—a handful
         will make myth of his windshield. 

If you’ve avoided the food industry, congratulations; you’re lucky enough to not smell like seafood, butter, ice cream, or hamburger grease.  When reading these poems, it doesn’t really matter because we all are an essential cog in the separate mechanisms of our lives.  We all aspire for more than what we’re doing. It’s in this way that American Busboy will spill clam juice on a freshly wiped counter, following a trail into your subconscious. 

Maybe Guenette is scarred by his time spent in a seafood restaurant.  Maybe these invisible workers don’t qualify as “traditional poetry material.”  But these aren’t flaws.  The best thing about American Busboy isn’t Guenette’s humor, inventiveness, or his admirable alliteration.  It is that we will remember that busboys, fry cooks, and dishwashers exist the next time we visit a restaurant.  After all, we know why they wear their faces long, and we’re happy that we aren’t in their positions.

—Nathan Kemp

Nathan Kemp is an undergraduate English student at The University of Akron.  He has published poetry in The Jet Fuel Review, the literary journal of Lewis University.  He has performed editorial work as an intern for Black Lawrence Press and The University of Akron Press.