rev. of The Pajamaist by Matthew Zapruder

Issue #104
Winter 2007-08

The Pajamaist, poems by Mathew Zapruder (Copper Canyon): There is a famous story about John Lennon’s visit to a London art gallery in the sixties, in which the Beatle was faced with a precariously tall step ladder leading up to a dangling telescope. When he climbed to the top of the ladder and looked through the telescope, he saw the word "YES" printed on the lens, which both repaid his risk and introduced him to Yoko Ono, whose work it was. The Pajamaist, a collection of poems by Mathew Zapruder, similarly requires and then rewards a certain amount of effort on the part of the reader, and, to me, convincingly stands out from the crowd of young elliptical poets of our time.

Like many poets of his generation, Mathew Zapruder is much preoccupied with the how of saying; he writes the self-conscious sentence of the era, brandishing the badges of whimsy, non sequiteur, and a mild surrealism. "In Canada" offers a good sample of the zany charm, and the intermittent pockets of a deeper sensibility one comes upon by surprise:


By Canada I have always been fascinated.
All that snow and acquiescing.
All that emptiness, all those butterflies
marshaled into an army of peace…
…When they come
to visit me, no one ever leaves me
saying, the most touching thing
about him is he’s so human.
Or, I was really glad to hear
so many positive ideas regardless
of the consequences expressed.
Or I could drink a case of you.
No one has ever pedaled
every inch of thousands of roads
through me to raise awareness
from my struggle for autonomy.
I have pity but no respect for others,
which is not compassion, just ordinary
love based on attitudes towards myself.
I wonder how long I can endure.
In Canada the leaves are falling…


Frank O’Hara is audible in Zapruder’s voice, of course, and enjambment visibly is the momentum-engine to Zapruder’s unspooling monologues, but it is his syntax, once you get the hang of it, that seems most original in his work—it dictates the pace at which one follows, and it quietly zigzags to interesting places. In the poem "Water Street," an ode to Brooklyn, the lines wander down the page in skinny irregular William Carlos Williams columns: "My window / lets in I’m not happy / and I’m not / sad chimes / from the radio / the roofers listen to. / Above the streets / little leaves / wait for the key to turn." The slow unkinking of the sentence yields a steady sequence of pleasures, both charming and sober. "Water Street" ends: "Off the scaffold workmen are leaping / into the arms of lunch. / All day with hammer claws / they yank wet shingles / and do not look at the sea. … / A shadow is climbing the wall. / Good borough people, / just as the last ceremonial / day of winter / leaves a wreath / floating on the water, / you brought me here / to respect relation, / to put truth / and beauty together / though sometimes I tear them / apart." The earnest substance of this conclusion is not an anomaly in The Pajamaist (whose title poem is ambitiously dark); Zapruder has not just a deft manner, but an inwardness which is sturdy and generous, a little reminiscent of the James Wright of a quite different era. —Tony Hoagland

Tony Hoagland’s latest book is Real Sofistikashun: Essays on Poetry and Craft (Graywolf, 2006).