Mezzanines by Matthew Olzmann;
Alice James Books, 2013; 80 pp,
Reviewed by Jeffrey W. Peterson
I’d previously heard of Matthew Olzamann’s work through Vievee Francis, the poet he dedicates the book to, but I was only familiar with one poem. Upon completion, I realize Olzamann took me to intimate places, places between worlds where I was already comfortable.
The poems in Mezzanines cover an array of topics, ranging from NASA satellites to horse mouths to unreturned letters. The topics are familiar, using themes of acceptance within society and love, but Olzamann’s platforms and stages are different, unexpected, and often invigorating.
“Spock as a Metaphor for the Construction of Race During My Childhood” and “Mountain Dew Commercial Disguised as a Love Poem” are among a few standout poems because of their turns. The first reminds me of Terrance Hayes and his poem“Talk”, concerning a white and black friendship forever changed after a request to talk a certain way. Matthew chooses to embark this same territory with sci-fi and interstellar references that lead to a plainspoken realization. We are all at once comfortable, intrigued, and dismayed with lines such as “You knew you were like all the other kids, / until your best friend said, No, You’re not. / And he was right.”
During other poems, Matthew chooses to go for the heart in a more overt manner. “Mountain Dew Commercial Disguised as a Love Poem” uses familiar territory, but has its own flair. The poem focuses on a speaker listing the reasons their matrimony may survive. The reader is taken through scenes of sacrifice and quirks and fear, only to arrive at an essence. The lover’s last sacrifice, which brings about deprivation, is an example of how resonating their commitment is. I adore the pattern of the poem, especially when harsh turns like “When the lights / are off, the curtains drawn, and an additional sheet is nailed / over the windows, you still believe someone outside / can see you” delve deeper into the lover’s persona.
Mezzanines is a worthy read and the poetry here is refreshing and satisfying.
Jeffrey W. Peterson was a 2011 fellow in the Bucknell Seminar for Younger Poets. He earned degrees from the University of West Georgia and Sarah Lawrence College. He currently serves as poetry editor for Madcap, a semiannual online journal, teaches English Composition, and mentors English Education students.