Jeff Latosik, Helium Ear. Anstruther Press, 60 copies, 2016.
Jeff Latosik’s poems are tricky to read but it has taken me a while to put my finger on why. It’s that they are very much concerned with the self but not with myself, with the being but not the individual. As a result, the reader gets few glimpses of J.L. the person or even the practising poet, despite the fact that Helium Ear is so often about what existence feels like from the inside.
One of the most relatable poems and so a good place to start is “On Meeting a Former Self.” Imagine meeting that earlier, younger version of yourself with the knowledge you have now: “You know everything he will not listen to. / and he knows some, as well, that you won’t hear again.” This poem where “the person you wanted / to be is talking to the one you couldn’t become” might have been very different. Another poet might have used details (real or fictional) to show this contrast: you couldn’t have known your father would die so young; if only I could tell you that your loneliness would ease one day, etc. There is absolutely none of that ordinary stuff. Instead, Latosik spins out his idea in a more abstract manner.
These are clever poems–clever in a good way, meaning astute and quick witted as opposed to canny and slick. The first poem, “The internet,” is one of the rare ones to use the first person, and although it never gets personal (detailed, yes), anyone my age can easily relate to it:
I first heard about it in a Burger King.
Its aims seemed elusive as the stock ticker
or why some people stayed in marriages.
I bused tables with a cloth that mucked the laminate sheen
and, just that Spring, an annular eclipse ringed the sky
like we were suddenly looking down a cabled conduit.
These lines have a very pleasing cadence, and sound good read allowed. Latosik’s smarts make it easy to take for granted his finely chiselled language.
The other poems are as interesting and, yes, as tricky. I’ll finish off with “Mind” since it takes as its subject what seems to me Latosik’s main interest. “Having one means you’ve got to be / at least two about most things,” he begins jokingly, but then the poem works a different binary idea, not the mind against itself but the mind wishing to disassociate from the body, to rise above “liver, spleen, and heart” as something not only superior but able to know all without the body’s knowledge. “Where was I in all of this…?” wonders the poet, his own recognizable identity somehow lost in this labyrinth of ideas. It is a question that might be asked of this fascinating, elusive little collection of graceful, poetic thought pieces.