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Matthew Zapruder’s SUN BEAR

For a few weeks, I avoided Sun Bear, Matthew Zapruder’s newest collection of poetry, a book I was very, very happy to see in the store and to purchase. It sat in the nightstand jump seat along with several back issues of National Geographic (they come so fast). It was there because I was nervous he’d get in my head like last time and I’d go through an ungainly stage of attempted breezy and expansive verse, only to find imitation can also be the saddest form of flattery. It’s called sladattery, and like puberty it’s normal, embarrassing, and full of periods. Or, as in the case of Zapruder, very little punctuation at all.

In Sun Bear, and what I admire about Zapruder’s work overall, is the insistence on movement and momentum. I mean that we are never in one space or time for very long, and even if we wanted to linger over some brilliant turn of phrase or image, there’s no time. We’re pushed onward. Maybe like a Jacob’s ladder, once the first piece swings down to clack the second, it’s moving on its own. To stop one piece is stop entirely. Click. Clack. Here. There. Through time.

from Poem for a Coin

you clink against the gold
I wear on the finger known as ring
on one side a number on the other
some famous candelabra
a solemn crowd once a year
along the main avenue carried
to celebrate Night the considerate guest
that while we are sleeping quietly
takes its clouds and departs
or a shield that long ago
protected a prince from an arrow
so he could become the cruel
organizer whose roads to this day
we still unthinking travel

The tremendous speed with which we move is achieved, in part, by the omitted punctuation; coupled with strong enjambment, we are kept desperate for resolution and we tumble on. These tools are not unique to Zapruder, though he uses them effectively. What I consider more exciting is the role many of the speakers play in adding to the momentum: so many are endowed with rich and lively inner worlds which they acknowledge and slip into.

from Poem to a Cloud above a Statue

you came
not really looking like anything
or maybe a little bit like if you could talk
you would choose silence as a subject
and I felt completely sure
you would never ask me
to think about the past
except maybe those days I will confess
even though it is silly I still think of as holy

And rather than slow down by changing direction or with added weight, each foray into the speaker’s imagination seems to add another engine to the machine. Internal and external velocities combine. Science?

What most compels me in Sun Bear, and as we glimpse in the excerpt above, the imagination, however vivid, discovers negative space, non-events. We see it, too, in Poem for a Persian Singer: “she says a word / it sounds like glacier / I’m pretty sure / the song describes / how it feels when / something important / does not happen.” And in Poem for Bill Cassidy: “I almost hear / a silent bell.” Quietly, perhaps unintentionally, the speakers acknowledge emptiness; the result is a book not about longing, but made with it. This in particular is worth emulating, even it if it comes out wrong.