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Poems by Peter Schwartz. Achilles Chapbook Series.

Peter Schwartz is a poet and visual artist. I think this is important. The awesomely unsettling mannequin that graces the cover of his chapbook, Old Men, Girls, and Monsters, is courtesy of him. Long-term AZ readers might remember Schwartz’s artwork (“Mausoleum” and “Wings of Garbage”) from our first issue. In terms of tone and subject matter, the black and white template that he so often employs finds its literary equivalent in Old Men, Girls, and Monsters.

Considering his prolific output (one need only check out his website for further evidence), the fact that Old Men, Girls, and Monsters contains only seven poems seems quite workmanlike of Schwartz. That would be true if not for Schwartz’s affinity for long poems, often in sections. The first poem here, “anonymous confessions 1-24,” is twelve pages long; the penultimate, and most overtly autobiographical poem, “the ABCs of loss,” is six. Yet over the course of three, six, or even twelve pages, the work is never boring; it’s unrelenting. Just when you think the numbered sections in “anonymous confessions 1-24” might offer some respite, rhythm and logic spill over the demarcations:

and I still crave our rented music

badly enough to open my throat


because I can’t figure out

who’s whose audience I tempt

You see, these are urgent poems; they have something to say.

But what are they saying? Much of Old Men, Girls, and Monsters seems to be about the act of saying, of naming the unnameable. I’m not sure that the unnameable is just one thing (“please don’t name that reservoir,” begs one title), but “the ABC’s of loss” (a regrettable title, comparatively) suggests a few possibilities. When Schwartz writes “I’m only the more lonely of its curators, my father bangs me/against the walls like a cheap prostitute…” I feel like we gain a narrative insight into this group of more lyric poems. Although I don’t think that such an act of revelation removes any forcefulness from the collection as a whole (it would likely raise the stakes for many readers), this more confessional side of Schwartz intrigued me least.

What’s most amazing to me here is that Old Men, Girls, and Monsters succeeds as often as it does while being as inclusive as it is. I wouldn’t call Schwartz a formalist, but his tight control of the line (the line breaks are simply excellent) and stanzaic structure keeps the madness in check. Schwartz textures the work with lists, the lists textured with surprises that would appeal to any AZ reader. I’m thinking of the opening to the poem “artificial light” here, one that works appositively in its constant reconfiguration of the “we”:

me and you, we were fugitives

serenades in the flesh, minor magicians

practicing a new kind

of disappearance, we were

empiricists, black sheep, self-police


To spend time with this book is to learn new names when the old no longer suffice.

—Zach Buscher, poetry reader, A CAPPELLA ZOO