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By Shawn Misener

In the small press world there are very few authors who have their own voice. It’s just a fact of the game. Shit, the publishing world at large is riddled with work that fails to stand out. As entertaining and thought-provoking as an author may be, he still probably falls softly within the folds of convention.

I say this because Mather Schneider is one the authors whose work doesn’t stand out. I can see you now, old Mather, either laughing at me or swearing at me or both. But trust me: This is a good thing. We can’t all be Vonnegut. We can’t all be Jim Harrison. We can only hope to fulfill our limitations, stretch our turtle shells, and maybe carve out a little piece of ourselves for the world to swallow. I think Schneider has done that.

His identity as a poet is clear and true, especially within his latest collection of poems He Took a Cab (NYQ Books, 2011). He’s a cab driver in the desert. He observes, records, and comments on his fare. Occasionally he will let his mind percolate and wander into the more philosophical aspects of his job. But mainly he comes across as a passive observer of the lives who have hired him for a ride, who then abandons that passivity to poke fun at, criticize, or admire what he has witnessed. It’s a good formula. He Took a Cab is consistently entertaining.

Schneider is not one to indulge in fantastic, absurd, surreal, or romantic language. In many ways his straightforward tone is his greatest strength. If you appreciate poetry that isn’t really poetry but chopped up dairy entries, you’ll dig this book. This “common man” approach is also the the most glaring weakness of his writing. He doesn’t seem to care much about rhythm and line breaks, and occasionally his poems will suffer because the reader is forced to bumble around and experience the work like engaging in a conversation with an extremely slow person with a slight stutter. One thing the new generation of poets lacks as a whole is an appreciation of FLOW, and Schneider is no exception.

That being said, this book is simply one of the best reads of the year. Rarely will over 100 pages of poetry hold my attention all the way through; Mather’s did. His trademark dry wit, cynical perspective, and lowbrow romanticism is present in spades. There’s no question: Schneider is a solid, solid writer. His tales grip you and drag you through mud behind his cab, sometimes for hours on end. There is no demographic that is safe from his clutches, and I love him for it. We all live in his cab. Rich or poor, religious or atheist, lilly white or everything else, Mather has observed you, dissected you, and written about you. Chances are you’ll recognize yourself and be a big enough person to laugh.

CLUTCHING AT STRAWS ILLUMINATED PROBOSCIS RATING: 9 Stars out of 10.

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Review By Shawn Misener

“Mohawk Sideburn Attachment Kit”

caterpillars
look great on you,
I said—
caterpillars
are the new butterfly

don’t be an idiot
she said—
as if she’d
already begun
to build her cocoon

“Is There Life on Mars?”

nothing has seen me this way in years,
the bartender said—
he tried on his brand new shirt-wig
it suits me, he said
he was right; it did

a hot pink influence waltzed
up and down my brainstem
it couldn’t be the newsboy;
I’d remember him,
I thought

what if what I thought was me
was never really me at all,
& the real me was currently
watching this me
from some planet far,

far away
oh my goodness,
I said—
I think I’m in love

Whether or not we want to admit it, there is a movement happening in the small press, and that movement has been fueled and underwritten by the phenomenon of online publishing. This movement is saturated with chapbooks by authors whose work can be easily accessed by a simple Google search. I typed in my own name and found over fifty different poems on just the first ten pages of results (alongside the other internet-famous Shawn Miseners, one who has his own show at BowhunterPlanet.com, the other a professional disc golfer). A search for David Tomaloff yields a similar harvest: Dozens of poems published at dozens of webzines.

I’ve been familiar with his work for a while now, but all of my previous readings didn’t quell my enthusiasm after storming through the seventeen short poems included in his new chapbook A Soft That Touches Down & Removes Itself (NAP Magazine & Books, 2011). These poems are special, and they seem to be a significant shift from Tomaloff’s excessively abstract and dense work of the past. These poems are more accessible, with an easy flow and a soft touch that is both unexpected and incredibly compassionate.

What’s most impressive is that Tomaloff seems to have written these poems as a series, yet they never fall into repetition and bored sentimentality, despite their focus on a dialogue between himself and a mysterious woman. Each poem is short (between three and six stanzas) and is presented as a “he said/ she said’ type of banter. This formula never gets old, and in fact by the end I was hoping for more. Tomaloff’s choice of words and thoughtful economy of lines is amazingly effective and appealing.

These poems are far from an homage to romantic cheese. They are brief excursions into moments of time between two people whose world is marked by enigmatic surrealism. There is magic in nearly every stanza. These are my personal favorite types of poems, real humans acting in fairly real ways, cushioned by a universe full of magic and subconscious imagery. They read like the author rolled out of bed and typed his dreams onto the page while they were still fresh on his electric brain.

If the two poems above this review are appealing to you, I highly recommend this book. It’s the most solid and cohesive chap I’ve read in the past couple of years, full of strange beauty and effective word choice. Highly recommended.

CLUTCHING AT STRAWS ILLUMINATED PROBOSCIS RATING: 8.5 straws out of 10

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