A Poverty of Words
By Frederick Pollack
Review by Scott Holstad
Frederick Pollack, who will be appearing in a future issue of Ray’s Road Review, is a thinking man’s poet. And that’s shown through in his new book, A Poverty of Words. It’s not an easy read. It’s, at times, hard to get through. Sometimes you feel like you need a dictionary or a thesaurus, or perhaps even you need to be able to Google classical Greek names and terms. But it’s worth it. Because after you’ve finished this book, you feel like you’ve really accomplished something, and so did the poet writing this book.
While Pollack can sometimes take a narrative tone, he’s no Bukowski. He’s a little more “upscale.” Sometimes he bridges the gap between ancient and contemporary, as in “Tristia,” where Ovid dreams of telephones and email as he lives in exile. His poem entitled “The Recession” should be a mandatory reading for those in need of lessons learned.
Indeed, Pollack takes on a number of issues in this book, including homelessness (“The Soundwall”) and politics, in several poems. In “White House Talks,” subtitled “July, 2011,” he writes, “The most rational man in the room/never sighs or rolls his eyes/or interrupts. “ Some of the people in the room love their freedom and can do nothing but talk more and more about it, all the while while money talks. The poem ends, “feels confident/it will back him rather than these yahoos/and almost sighs, a courtesan among whores.” In “Hasty Orion,” he refers to the “’Kenyan’ commander-in-chief.” In “Troll,” he refers to himself as a “libtard” or “liberal retard.”
Pollack is a teacher/professor, as I once was, and I quite enjoyed his taking a little pot shot at students in “Charisma”: “As he spoke, the IQ/of his class diminished./When he reached the tenth minute/they had forgotten five./As he finished that sentence/they lost its beginning.” Oh, how I have had those feelings in years past! Standing in front of a group of people with their eyes glazed over doesn’t do much for the ego.
One of his poems that closes the book, “The Former Tenants,” is rough and gritty. In it, the speaker looks at a former group home that can’t sell and wonders why. “The town-house where the group home was/isn’t selling. Perhaps it’s the recession;/perhaps the barred windows, odd in this neighborhood./Or an echo of screams in the walls/Except that such effluvia don’t exist./Paint cures what it covers; people live/dreamlessly where prisons were, and torture.”
A Poverty of Words is, at 130 pages, a nice sized volume of poems, just about the right size. I don’t know what the price is. My only real complaint, and this is minor, is that the acknowledgement page comes at the end of the book and is an insert, something I’ve never seen before. Mine fell out of the book entirely. I don’t know why they chose to do it that way, but it’s highly unusual. Acknowledgements typically come at the beginning of poetry books. Most of the poems in this book appear to have been published in a wide variety of magazines, although I confess to not having heard of a number of them. That just means I shall have to look them up and more reading for me, right? Frederick Pollack accomplishes a lot with this book. It’s a big endeavor and he succeeds. Recommended? Definitely.
About Scott C. Holstad
Scott Holstad is the poetry editor for Ray’s Road Review.