October 4, 2007

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Some Nights No Cars At All, by Josh Rathkamp (Ausable Press, 2007, 86 pages)
Reviewed by Dan Szczesny dsczesny@hippopress.com

Josh Rathkamp’s first collection of poetry is a good effort.

The young poet has a decent sense of place, a sharp ear for creating descriptive urgency and, in some cases, a very dry sense of humor.

The real problem with Some Nights No Cars At All is its lack of any noticeable theme or construct. The 52 poems are divided into four sections but don’t appear to have much to do with each other. The subject matter of the volume is scattershot, with Rathkamp still not quite finding his voice. And because the poet has no real sense of self, the poetry tends toward the mundane — his two- or three-line verse structures become predictable and I found myself wanting him to reach further with the images and not be so careful and restrained.

That type of hesitancy is common, though, in first books, and Some Nights... does show signs when life when Rathkamp lets the verse loose a little, like he does in a very funny poem called “My Brother Met Lou Ferrigno Outside a Haunted House.”

And it was good, tasteful, the way he sat
almost alone, speaking to my brother as a brother
a hug, exchanges of money, a photo to remember him
big and strong and green crashing through a wall.

Rathkamp is also on his game when he uses restraint in word selection. His long poems are too wordy, too conversational. But his short verse sparkles, like “Before Breakfast,” here in its entirety.

A family, I think, of small mule
deer has taken my shoe

beside the door
in haste. Suddenly as if nature

took the time for this-
the wind blew dust

blanketing a man with groceries.

The short observational burst is flourish- free, and unsentimental, with callbacks in the use of “took” and “time” and “blew” and “blanketing.” Simple and direct works best for the poet.

Rathkamp shows promise in Some Nights No Cars At All. With luck and a little more attention to structural issues, his second book will be one to anticipate. CDan Szczesny