I like the format of the book. Separated into three distinct parts, it manages to come together as a story arc. Poetry can have themes or even a bits and pieces of a story. Greg’s approach has a whole plot, with rising and falling action. Upon reading it a few times, I noticed how seemingly unconnected parts made sense in the grand scheme of things.
The first part is called “Thinking things through”. In this section things are based around loneliness, discomfort, and an inability to fit in to the environment. Besides this focus on being alone there’s a dull buzz of consumer materials. “All Hotel Rooms Are Alike” mentions the constant din of the television late at night, selling you useless garbage in between episodes of stale sitcoms. For me the poem at the end embodies the lack of comfort these products provide: the narrator needs someone to talk to, they want to feel comfortable yet the foreign air is very cold.
“Hulk Smash” and “Love Poem for Shelley by Hulk” takes a more light-hearted look at being alone. Our protagonist is frustrated, rejected, and unable to fit in anywhere. I enjoy how Greg managed to use Hulk’s way of speaking and make it oddly beautiful. While the Hulk is usually just a big brute, the two poems bring out a certain desire to be loved and to love others. He doesn’t want to be managed by anger anymore.
On “unhipsterish earnestness” and “Autopilot” the work focuses on aging. People get older. They no longer are cool. All those things they could relate to have gone away. Instead they find ways of letting their age work for them. Working on being cool is sad. References pass them by. Little efforts to fit in, to be hip, are met with an attitude of “at least he tried”.
Part two, “Things thinking through” gives us a perspective on inanimate objects, their hopes and dreams. Usually he focuses on their desire for freedom. Flying furniture happens in “Out of the Blue”. Revolutions are contemplated by appliances. Animals pop in here and there hoping to join our world. Unfortunately they never seem to be able to break into our life or way of doing things. We try to help them (like in “Showbiz”) but our attention is misplaced.
“Travels around the Empire” ends the book. Some of these poems are the most tender, beautiful pieces in the entire book. By now the emperor is tired. People move around while the Emperor does nothing. As time passes the Emperor grows restless, as shown in “The Emperor’s Insomnia”. Peace doesn’t come to him anymore. Instead he feels frustrated longing for tranquility that dodges him. What’s interesting is how his subjects, going about their daily lives, are oblivious to his dilemmas. They have meaning and purpose in spite of their lowly positions. They move, wander, while the Emperor is stationary, losing control of himself. Dialogue occurs a lot in this section showing little glimpses of characters like walking through crowded squares overhearing snippets of conversation.
The book flows swimmingly. The attention to characters and development is welcome. I enjoyed how many times I returned to this work. Tenderness throughout the whole book binds it together. Emotions of loneliness appear to be resolved by the end, with friends travelling together, getting on each other’s nerves, and generally being normal people. Greg’s take on the isolation of power felt spot on as well. While I’ve never been an Emperor, I’ve worked in an office and often thought those same isolating thoughts appeared. I’d see others getting along with boring bureaucratic nonsense (like in “I Am His Majesty’s Most Trusted Servant”) and would wonder why I’m even there. Thankfully I was not alone when one of my colleagues asked me “What do we actually do here?” in half sincerity/jest. We laughed because there was no good answer.
Greg Santos has written a book which speaks volumes about our current isolation and how overcome it. It’s fantastic.