The first dozen or so poems in this charming collection by Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz read like something a slightly more urbane version of Pam from NBC’s The Office might write if she lived and worked in New York City. Topics in this portion of the book range from the poet’s love for her morning cup of coffee to an odd talent for answering all phone calls with a sunny disposition. But then the collection takes a turn when a poem about 9/11 recasts all of the previous poems in a new light; there used to be something light and bouncy about working a dead-end job in NYC, this poem and those that follow seem to say, but in the wake of 9/11, it’s time to for the poet to get her priorities straight. In this case, it’s a matter of deciding to leave the relative comfort of a steady paycheck and health benefits in favor of the poet’s hand-to-mouth lifestyle. Needless to say, there’s no moment where the poet says, “And then I decided to focus on poetry because 9/11 put everything into perspective for me,” but the structure of the collection makes the lasting effect of that pivotal moment in both world and personal histories difficult to ignore. What follows, then, is a series of meditations on the place of the poet in society: poems about being a touring spoken word poet, poems lauding the efforts of baristas to hold off on making steamed beverages until there’s a pause between poems, poems lamenting the failures of other poets, and ultimately poems about falling in love with Shappy Seasholtz (no poetry collection is complete without at least a handful of these). Other topics covered in this collection include the “outsider” art of Henry Darger, college cafeterias, first words, abandoned words, and the exquisite sense of schadenfreude involved in seeing a rival poet fail. From tragedies both global and personal, Aptowicz expertly milks equal amounts of pathos, humor, and self-awareness. What’s more, there’s a story in this collection, a subtle narrative about priorities, about anxiety, about the myriad performances we put on throughout the day. And, ultimately, about finding one’s place in the world.
The first (but by no means only) joke in Shappy Seasholtz’sSpoken Nerd Revolution is the title: the poems collected in this snappy little volume are clearly meant to be read aloud — yet here they are on the printed page, fending largely for themselves, accompanied only by illustrations of a lovelorn beatnik (courtesy of Sam Henderson) for guidance and protection. Fortunately, they have wit on their side. And a truckload of references to the early-to-mid 1980s that self-professed nerds like myself (and, apparently, the poet) gobble like power-pellets in a game of Pac-Man.
There is, of course, a poem dedicated to l’homme de Pac in this collection, yet Seasholtz digs even deeper into his knowledge of Atari 2600 lore to produce paeans to such obscure yet somehow ubiquitous games like Circus and Joust. (One complaint — Shappy, if you’re reading this — no mention of Yars’ Revenge? What gives?) Add to this plentiful references to all of the other pop-culture touchstones of my childhood — “a mint-in-package Jawa/with its original vinyl cape,” “Mork’s space egg,” and Cap’n Crunch’s Crunchberries — and you have a poetic vocabulary aimed directly at the alienated demographic of recovering uber-geeks that grew up, through no fault of their own, in the wake of a diplomatic mission to Alderan and never quite recovered from the experience.
1980s pop culture isn’t the only topic Seasholtz touches on in this collection. He also tackles such issues as love and his dissatisfaction with US foreign policy — all in his own unique way. And, lest I forget, he also meditates at some length on zombie stand-up comedy. All of this is to say that Seasholtz is funny — assuming A) you’re in the mood for his brand of humor and B) you (like me (like I?)) never get tired of Yoda references. In some ways, Spoken Nerd Revolution is reminiscent of the poetry Robbie Q. Telfer, who provides a refreshingly honest blurb on the back cover of the book. At the same time, I’m also reminded of some of the wackier poetry of the late Richard William Pearce, whose posthumous volume of poetry, To Befriend a Fox, is due later this year. All told, Spoken Nerd Revolution is not only a fun read, but it will also look cool on your desk or coffee table.