I’m reading ryan fitzpatrick’s Fortified Castles (Talonbooks, 2014) in a very busy bar. A man two seats over yells loudly about fucking strippers but not being able to talk about it at work. He loves strippers, he says. I clear my head, misogyny is hard to ignore, but I read more passages from ryan’s book.
I reach the middle section of Fortified Castles, and my stomach flips. The way the poems are meant to flip. My anxiety disorder makes any human interactions feel like I am trapped in my body and these poems are speaking to it, in a good way. Dragon’s Den plays on the television: this bar is what I assume hell would be, and poetry is all I have to escape (metaphor alert!). The man talking about the strippers moves to the seat next to me and yells loudly in my ear about someone named John Mann. He talks of memories being forgotten and mental illness. He asks me if I want to see all the cuts he gives himself. He asks me about women, I don’t reveal to him that I’m gay for my own safety.
I refocus on the book. The collection is like this delicious grilled cheese. The poems of the outer section are goofy, aphorisms, couplets, light, sincere, that slip and play around.
The cheese in this grilled cheese sandwich book, it’s not what I expected (I really like grilled cheeses): tight, compressed. Each poem is a magnet of emotion, or it uses something missing to hold it all together. Like ryan fitzpatrick thought about a feeling, then raked the internet for all the statements that evoked that same emotion. I wonder, at this point, if it’s the hot breath of the drunk man yelling into my ear that makes these poems more about depression than it would normally.
Considering that was the moment I was in reading the book, the poems read as fears and anxieties compressed into incomplete sonnets. Couplets that usually respond to these are missing. These constructed collage poems are so tightly knit together that it acts more like a painting than a collage. Kind of like when you have to find the edge of clear packing tape, but it’s impossible and you’re feeling for the edge and you’re certain the tape roll is fused together in some magical way. Kind of like that, but enjoyable. Anyway …
The drunk man yells, “FUCKING STEPHEN HARPER AND JUSTIN BIEBER” into a young girl’s ears. She is scared. The bartender asks him to stop. The man goes outside for a smoke.
I google “fortified” to see if I’m missing anything in the definition. I read about fortifying alcohol but also fortifying as strengthening something mentally. I google “John Mann” because the drunk guy won’t stop yelling his name into my ear, “I fucking met John Mann today dude!”
The man across from me at the bar switches his seat so that when someone sits next to him he moves one stool away. He does this the entire night. He is handsome. I realize that maybe I only notice him because he is handsome. He checks his phone every two minutes. I read,
“The place I want to live is labeled and documented.
I chase sprinklers in the sun. I get hopeful when
the day ends. I subtract everyone from the streets. In
the future, maybe you will love me in a real way.”
So you’re wondering about the drunk man, and what the fuck this review is about, and that’s cool. I saw ryan a couple weeks later, and he said that when he reads from the last poems in the book, it’s so depressing. I countered him and said those poems, for me, were the most hopeful. The way they are stepping away from the first section with its irony and goofy twists, and the middle, with its angst and intensity, and went to a place of sincerity. And if there’s anything that gives a book hope, it’s sincerity.
“My heart, however, overflowed with hope. I
overflowed with reverence. I intruded my heart.”
Back to the night at the bar, with the man drunk and yelling, with Dragon’s Den blasting overhead, me trying to read a book (slightly inebriated). After a while the drunk man was asked to leave the bar. He didn’t fight it. He wasn’t rude or aggressive. He slumped down, said “ok,” and slowly exited without a noise. I am more familiar with a narrative that follows a man raging in response to being cut off. I was silently clutching my book, but he walked away with just a whimper. After he left, the sensory overload of the night went away with him, and all that was left was empathy, sincerity, exactly how I felt reading the final lines of Fortified Castles. And that, is an extended metaphor on how I read this book, and how this book reads. Fucking, John Mann.
This is Daniel Zomparelli’s last review for Lemon Hound. We’ll miss you!