Come On All You Ghosts
Copper Canyon Press
White Castle, Frankenstein, a favorite lamp, John McCain, Diet Coke, an airport in El Paso: Matthew Zapruder gently places what is so ordinary about our lives into these poems and transforms them into cliffs off which we walk and, together, float away. “I am actually / rising away from myself. Which is maybe / what I have in common right now with you,” he writes in “Pocket,” and he means it. Closing the imaginary distance between the surreal and the sincere, Come On All You Ghosts is an all-inclusive rally cry for belief in what makes us human, for what makes us hurt as well as love.
Driven by Zapruder’s lyrical ability to weld the everyday with the extraordinary, these poems forfeit artifice for earnestness, continually turning the world around inside them, opening it up to new kinds of music. “I don’t understand but I understand,” he writes, and it is exactly this flexible uncertainty that makes Zapruder’s poems so honest and elegant. “I want to do important work,” he admits in “Burma,” engaging the ethical implications of acting and reacting in a world in which all people, suffering or not, are connected. But rather than collapse under the weight of such issues, this book embraces these difficult questions as a way of getting at why we write poems in the first place. In “White Castle,” the fast food chain becomes a sight of quiet ethical and emotional revelation as Zapruder writes:
I was outside touching my hand to the rough
surface of the original White Castle. I was thinking
major feelings such as longing for purpose
plunge down one like the knowledge one
has been drinking water for one’s whole life
and never actually seen a well, and minor ones
we never name are always across the surface
of every face every three seconds or so rippling
and producing in turn other feelings.
It is this struggle to understand, to take account of our emotions as well as our lives, which lies at the optimistic heart of this book. And as always, the wild energy of Zapruder’s imagination holds these poems together with a wrongness that continually knocks us over: “I feel like a mountain of cell phone chargers,” (from “April Snow”); “They say it’s difficult to put a leash on a hummingbird,” (from “Letter to a Lover”); and “Have I mentioned tonight / we shall both stand before the enormous spiral / of wrecking balls in a dress made of laughing glass?” (from “Never Before”).
In tandem with these moments of weightlessness, the ghosts that Zapruder calls upon, from that of the poet’s father to David Foster Wallace and Kenneth Koch, act as always-present sounding boards for this book’s fascination with how poetry takes precedence. In the title poem, Zapruder writes:
Come on all you ghosts,
I know you can hear me,
I know you are here,
I have heard you cough
and sigh when I pretend
I do not believe
I have to say something important.
Probably no one will die
of anything I say.
Probably no on will live
even a second longer.
Is that true?
The answer to that question is the reason this book exists. It would be difficult to find a collection of poems that answered it more convincingly.
Nick Sturm is a graduate student in the NEOMFA: Northeast Ohio Master of Fine Arts. He is an assistant editor of the Akron Series in Poetry, poetry editor of Rubbertop Review, and associate editor of the Akron Series in Contemporary Poetics. His reviews are forthcoming in The Laurel Review and Whiskey Island. His first book-length editorial venture, The Monkey and the Wrench: Essays into Contemporary Poetics, is forthcoming from the University of Akron Press in January of 2011.