Tiny, Frantic, Stronger
By Jeff Latosik
London, ON: Insomniac Press, 2010
79 pp. $11.95
In his debut poetry collection, Tiny, Frantic, Stronger, Jeff Latosik analyses everyday scenes for their emotional content, for the correlations between objects and events, and for the details that lie beneath the details. In “On Climbing a Ladder,” he provides a fitting description of his approach, writing, “We know that under every problem there is / another problem and under that there is a kind of sea” (70). The poet links problems, objects, and milieus together, all the while maintaining an acute awareness of the murky sea underneath. For example, in the opening poem, “How the Tiktaalik Came onto Land” (13), Latosik deftly depicts his skill at forming such interconnections when he sequentially relates a prehistoric fish to someone playing baseball, then to a departing lover. He thus introduces the notion that everything, every experience, can surprisingly somehow be connected, as emphasised in the line, “The field in every abandoned thing / we found in that field” (36).
Unfortunately, the poems quickly become formulaic: a quotidian scene or event in the poem or its title is immediately likened to something else, whether through analogy, metaphor, or simile. More often than not, the associations are formed through similes, and rarely does Latosik avoid using them as both the crux and crutch of his poems. The comparisons eventually become superfluous and repetitive, even of themselves: “Only a cold wind, rain, / some past indiscretions that stung / like fastballs from a fastball machine” (14). At times, the vehicle and tenor of a comparison appear as though they are going to merge into a single lane and collide. For example, “Like the frame was made of Plasticine. Like Plasticine / was made of the thing […]” (30). The persistent employment of the “likes” leads to a tedious read, because if the speaker is constantly likening something to something else, he is never writing about the thing itself or saying anything of consequence about the original subject.
One subject that is repeated with clarity is locale, which produces a sense of unity of voice. Those living in or acquainted with the Toronto area may find the poems about city sites interesting as Latosik turns ordinary landmarks into art. The unity of locale and voice though, draw into contrast the lack of unity of a theme, variations on a theme, or even unity in the mechanical use of “like.” The poems read like flipping through channels and never getting an idea of what anything is about, which could be a commentary on modern existence, except that one usually flips through channels in search of something to watch. Moreover, the inclusion of poems that break from free verse in attempts at formal poetry—“Sonnet for Fake Puke” (29), “Something Inside That Grows Like a Vine” (35), which looks like a villanelle, but without the complex rhyme scheme—reveal not that Latosik can apply a classical form to the commonplace, but seem to highlight his inability to properly construct these forms. Even the intended humour in these efforts is lost, as with the closing poem, “The Thought Box” (after Ted Hughes) (75), which only results in accentuating what the poet is unable to achieve. Like a cheap trick, one played over and over again.
These quibbles aside, Latosik is, at times, able to create a balance, a well-observed association between the realm of human relationships and the objects that are apart from them yet still intertwined. In his P.K. Page Founders’ Award-winning poem, “Cactus Love,” he displays his talents, in the cactus that “knows” of the secrets in a relationship, the cactus that keeps “its cool water secret with a stillness you had once, long ago” (67). Such exemplary achievements, however, do no necessitate a compilation of weaker attempts at the same thing. The poems are indeed tiny and frantic, but what’s missing is the final word of the title: stronger.
Stephen Potts is finishing his final year of a Master’s degree in English literature. His main area of research is the rise in graphic descriptions of heterosexual sex in postmodernist fiction and how it coincides with the “waning of affect”. He also maintains an ancillary focus in film studies that began during his undergraduate degree. His academic work, poetry, and short fiction have been published in various literary and academic journals.
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