Three Tries on
Matthew Thorburn's
Subject to Change

(New Issues, 2004)

[Review Guidelines]

TAKE ONE: The book is infectious, and downright fun. As one of the seven Brenda Hillman selections for the 2003 New Issues Poetry prize (all of them that we've read have been inventive in interesting, formal ways, including Barbara Maloutas's In a Combination of Practices and Ever Saskya's fun The Porch Is a Different Journey than the House), it's no surprise to see that Thorburn is happy to hop between received and invented forms: in the mix we find a sestina, a bunch of messed-with sonnets, a couple of triptychs, some spare fragments, and some more amorphous stuff (like the Jim & John twin poem that comes in two vertical columns justified against each other).

TAKE TWO: It's hard to bring to mind a book as naturally effervescent as this one in recent memory. The tone is like the film Charade—tight, light, playful, taut. Subject to Change is a cosmopolitan, international, laid-back sort of a book, the kind you might read while sitting out on the piazza. While at times it does read prosy, other moments are wonderfully musical as all hell: "the sleight / of hand of light and dew working against / each other on the grass: sprinkling half-moons, / sparks, glister, glisten, a glissando / longer for long after it's gone." Rock. Even the poems that start flat, like "'Plunky's Lament'" (the title goes in double quotes since it's a Bela Fleck song): "Been a long time since I rock-‘n'-rolled, / since I kicked out the jams, motherfucker" (and here we're in a sort of doldrum, though maybe an intentionally wack one) end strong with a great little crypto-lick: "even if I can't say for sure what / I'm hearing's Bela Fleck, not that other fella, Beck." Ha. And nice. Aside from the linguistic licks, there's lots of actual music that ducks in and out of the poems, from the Interlochen arts camp and its bassoonist to the coda that literally ends the book. Thorburn must be a veteran of one high school orchestra or another, and unlike the rest of us post-band dorks, he's proud of it, and—better—able to make something good out of it.

TAKE THREE: These are pretty accessible poems, on the whole, with pleasures here for everyone. We'd seriously recommend picking this book up.