21 August 2012

Snowmen Losing Weight

In his first, full-length collection Snowmen Losing Weight (BatCat Press, 2012), Noah Falck appears to level an explicit indictment of Whitmanian poetics in the poem “Not A Song” when he writes: “Sing not the crossed arms of America. / Sing not America, not the frayed salt of wounds.” These lines, though, should be read as a bit of a dodge. For, indeed, Falck does sing America, although he focuses his music upon a particular cross-section of the country.

And what is that cross-section? Mostly the Midwest and its cities, landscapes, and denizens. Take, for instance, the following passage:
Then the scoreboard leaks
a boatload of Japanese beetles
and tiny children lose their teeth.
I watch the colors come out of their screams
and it makes me feel Catholic all over.
The point guards dreams in unmarked cars,
in starchy collared shirts.
The “scoreboard” evokes the high school football fields of Middle America, while the “boatload of Japanese beetles” serves as a reminder of the popular Bag-a-Bugs that lined suburban streets in Ohio and Pennsylvania during the mid- to late-eighties and overflowed with shiny green and brown beetles. Similarly, readers encounter a slew of images one could see in any number of cities and towns located between the coasts:
vanity plates from Michigan and the moon
after the blinds were drawn. There were seat
belt violators everywhere, people surfing channels,
a stubborn breeze lounging in the parking lot.
There were soda machines. Mountain Dew cans
squashed like hit-n-run and the moon 
            a gas station down the block some teenagers,
stoned for the first time, sift through a mountain
of potato chip bags.
Whether “vanity plates from Michigan,” soda machines filled with Mountain Dew, or stoned teenagers munching on potato chips purchased from a gas station, Falck’s poems orient readers within a blue-collar, American universe that reminds one of settings popularized by singers of the 80s, such as John Mellencamp and Bruce Springsteen.

While one might be tempted to pigeonhole Snowmen Losing Weight as a collection that traffics in quaint, often nostalgic memories of a bygone era, this would be to misread the collection's tone. In fact, several poems document an unapologetic exodus from Rust Belt by its younger inhabitants. For example, the second poem of the collection offers the following image:
and there are people
wearing puffy coats walking
away from the center
of the city. The buildings
are all vacant and small
Then, a bit later in the prose poem “Recipe For Reasoning”:
The river lost his prizewinning gleam. And there is no music coming from First Street. The abandoned buildings share the panoramic view and remember the foot traffic; they can’t forget the foot traffic. Still no music wants to come from First Street. All the canned beers go uncollected and the wind goes nostalgic. The city should have a future.
In both instances, people walk away from Midwestern city centers, leaving their vacant and abandoned buildings as monuments no more relevant than “uncollected” beer cans left to roll down the streets. Only the wind remains to experience the nostalgia of these empty cities. Moreover, the few who do stay to relive “the golden days / of drive-in movies” are those who, “years later,” are broken “men with saggy tits / and book clubs of [aged] women.” Yes, the “city should have a future,” but in all likelihood it doesn't; or at least not a future that appeals to a younger generation.

How, then, does the speaker of these poems confront this desolate and aging region? Well, first he flees from the “empty spaces / of urban buildings cranky with rusty machinery” and “the place where [his] heart / was first broken”; then, once he has “moved into another neighborhood” in order to escape “all the sadness in all the moments along the way,” he sings new songs within and to his a new America. Of course, the concluding poem of Snowmen Losing Weight leaves open to debate whether or not the speaker of these poems can truly escape the region; for we are told in “The Measuring Tape For The Midwest” that this part of the country “extends beyond the five flavors of boredom and further than the dimple-smeared children circling the food court could ever imagine.” Perhaps, then, it is inescapable.

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