February 7, 2008

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Failure, by Philip Schultz (Harcourt Books, 2007, 104 pages)
By Dan Szczesny dszczesny@hippopress.com

Two things are certain: Philip Schultz likes dogs, obsessively, and, like Isobel Dixon is obsessed with his father.Both of those character traits work well for him in his latest book, Failure.

Schultz may be one of the most underrated poets working today. Failure is his sixth collection and it is strange that the New York poet has not yet not yet been considered for any major award.

Schultz’s strength has always been his ability to cast an unblinking, but mostly compassionate, eye on the sadness and confusion of failure. Schultz is back to his old tricks, but this time his prose sneaks up on you. The first half of Failure is a fairly upbeat meditation on family, children and vacations. But that all changes with “My Dog.” Schultz writes a lot about dogs; he appears with one in his book jacket photo. But he uses this poem — which tells the tale of a beloved pet who waits two weeks for Schultz to come home to die — to drastically change the tone of the collection and signal the darkness to come.

And when Schultz finally takes the reader to his darker place, he does so with gusto.

But unlike Dixon, Schultz appears to have disliked his father and does not mourn his passing.

The collection’s title poem details the relentless failures of Schultz’s father, at the senior Schultz’s funeral no less. But it’s in the final epic poem, a 54-page riveting “The Wandering Wingless,” that Schultz triumphs. The poem is a grim, regret-filled dirge where the narrator, having lost his dog leash, begins the dark slide into depression and terror. The poem literally and metaphorically ends with the narrator having lost his mind and been committed to a psych ward.

Failure is not upbeat. The collection will not renew your sense of wonder at life’s beauty. Schultz is not interested in making you happy. But this is a brilliant book. ADan Szczesny