Poetry Editor Charlie Bondhus reviews Brock Guthrie’s forthcoming debut poetry book Contemplative Man, a “blunt and evocative” offering from Sibling Rivalry Press.
Brock Guthrie’s first book, Contemplative Man (Forthcoming, March 14, Sibling Rivalry Press) is, by turns, blunt and evocative. The bluntness is most often found in Guthrie’s speaker’s frank encounters with sex, booze, and hard living. The evocative, on the other hand, is most readily seen in this “contemplative man’s” moments of introspection, in which an external event sets off a train of associations.
The poem “Catch and Release” provides a good example. It opens: “My cat is an asshole. Impatient. A little bored. Like me /he keeps going for the glass of Maker’s /sitting by my laptop.” When the cat’s mischief becomes too much for the speaker, he grabs the hapless animal and the cat responds by “mak[ing] the face you make /when you’re arrested for public intox— /those far-away, Keith Richards eyes,” which in turn leads the speaker down memory lane to a wild night of partying it up at his “Buddy Chief’s” wedding.
“Chief” is only one of the speaker’s crazy buddies. “Cousin Ricky” makes his appearance in the poem “Animals,” returning “from hunting rabbits on my four-wheeler /to tell me he’s thought of a new way /to beat off,” while another friend, “Vince,” “drinks himself to sleep each night /with four or five Tylenol PMs, chases them down /with his seventh or eighth beer.”
The book contains many other examples of men behaving badly, which will certainly appeal to those of us who have sown (or are currently sowing) wild oats. However, Guthrie’s frankness also extends to other concerns, ones which are more universally relatable to men.
“Pose Poem,” for instance is a prose poem (pun intended?) in which a nude, freshly-showered speaker, makes muscles in the mirror whilst “act[ing] out a sort of take-down, you know, the /motion I’d use if I had to defend my mother’s life, or /something,” before admitting “making muscles in the mirror /while nude is not, could never be, poetic.” This dance between braggadocio and self-deprecation nicely captures the schizophrenic relationship many men have with their own masculinity.
Indeed, some of Guthrie’s strongest moments occur when he is balancing ego with insecurity. In “Appropriate Interjection,” for example, a blue-collar speaker, because he “want[s] to work with these guys /on future jobs,” tells his coworkers about how
I once caught a five-pound largemouth
she stuck two of the treble hook barbs
into my thumb, how I tried for an hour
to loosen them from the nerve…
how I had to push the points
clear through the side of my thumb
and clip the barbs with rusty wire cutters.
The language here is that of storytelling, a speaker breathlessly piling gory detail on top of gory detail in an attempt to impress, to validate himself as a man. This lengthy expostulation is, however, neatly punctured by the three closing lines of the poem, which read: “Then my friend’s friend holds out his left thumb, /a nubby little thing, tells us about an accident /he had with a circular saw.” Here, pain is the currency of masculinity, and the speaker has come up short.
The theme of blue-collar work and blue-collar living continues through many of the other poems. “Roofer,” a piece originally published in the Los Angeles Review, weaves together the speaker’s fear of accidental death (brought about by having to paint eaves whilst standing “on a narrow rung /near the top of /a collapsible ladder”) with his desire to prove himself to his boss who owned “half the buildings in town /[and] bought Corvettes /for his sons’ girlfriends.” This and other poems occupy an intersection of classism and gender expectations, and will likely speak to the insecurities that many men feel.
Relationships with women are engaged too, as the speaker’s wife “Brooke” makes a few appearances. In one poem, she texts the speaker to inform him that she has invited poetry-writing friends to spend the night, to which he remarks “How do I express, 160 characters or less, /how terrified this makes me?” In another, she and the speaker encounter a man in a Walgreens parking lot openly browsing a pornographic magazine, as they debate whether or not to call the police. Again, the speaker’s uncertainty makes the poems understandable.
Ultimately all of these different threads come together in Guthrie’s debut to provide us with a look at life from the perspective of a man who has lived roughly and taken his lumps, but is trying to make good.
Read samples from Contemplative Man and preorder it here.
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Photo courtesy of Sibling Rivalry Press