The Man Suit by Zachary Schomburg, his debut collection, represents an exploration into some pretty gritty spaces. Into contemporary surrealism. Into imaginative association. Into that blur between prose poem and flash fiction. As I read this book, I became enamored with the shapes Schomburg was making with his words, with the images, with the pieces and sections and book as wholes. Honestly, I am perplexed how to talk about this book as a collection in any defined/refined way. I know I liked it a great deal and am intrigued by why I like it. But when looking up one of my favorite poems “A Band Of Owls Moved Into Town,” I discovered it was originally published in a free verse form with linebreaks and a few other differences. Because my mind immediately latched onto the structure of the poems in this book, I thought I’d examine the differences between the two, hopefully uncovering some of the answers to what makes this book rule.
A basic overview of what I found structurally/thematically in this book: Two major structures of poems are normed in this book: half-page to full page prose poems and narrow, small stanza free verse poems. Also, recurring themes, names, and ideas repeat themselves (and Schomburg even includes a key word index at the end of the book). Also, there are some short sections/series in this book.
“A Band of Owls Moved Into Town,” a full page prose poem early in the book, is a great example of the type of things Schomburg is doing:
A band of owls moved into town. They shopped for groceries and ran for office, that sort of thing. It began casually. Everyone simply put up with the owls because businesses were booming and the schoolchildren’s test scores had suddenly taken a turn for the better. More and more owls, and some people too, made the move into town and the room for accommodations began to diminish. Needless to say, there was a lot of construction. The town became a city. It developed a night life and the
constant yellowish buzz of electricity.
One night at the Electric Mole, I met Julia, the daughter of new and prosperous socialites in town. She was incredible—the most amazing eyes. We stayed awake
through most nights holding each other beneath the moonlit window. We talked about everything, but mostly about our disdain for the construction and the flood of immigrant owls.
I would tell her, We seem to be the only two who are concerned, who notice. The only two who want out…
…Who want a simpler life, she would say. The only two who…who…
Aided by its structure, I am most intrigued by how this poem works its themes. This surreal context of owls moving into town automatically creates an oddness that for me allows the metaphors and the themes to shine. For instance, the struggle between youth and the various difficulties they face emotionally growing up, such as the conflict with adults, difficulty grasping change, and feeling like outsiders, radiates beautifully in this poem. The development of the piece complements those difficulties in the way it unravels. The first paragraph sticks to the third person, which allows readers to get comfortable with the unfamiliar situation. The second paragraph sets up the relationship between the I and Julia in this typical we-stay-up-all-night-and-just-talk-and-are-alone-together-in-the-world sort of way before finally unveiling the tension the speaker and Julia feel. Most telling, I think, is the separation of the speaker’s phrase, the more disgruntled of the two, from Julia’s, whose voice seems less concerned and more passive before trailing off symbolically. This structure pushes the poem to a good height because it allows readers to take each thing one step at a time, leading to the full realization of what it is representing.
Tarpaulin Sky originally published this poem in a different version. I’m intrigued by how the differences inform what Schomburg is doing in this book.
A band of owls moved into town,
shopped for groceries, ran for office,
that sort of thing. It began casually,
some of them gathered on Sundays
at Sophia’s to get their hair done and
then it was the bookstore on the corner.
Everyone simply put up with the owls
because businesses were booming
and the schoolchildren’s test scores
had suddenly taken a turn for the better.
More and more owls, and some people too,
made the move into town and the room
for accommodations began to diminish.
Needless to say, there was much
construction. The town quickly became
a city. It developed a night life and the
constant yellowish buzz of electricity.
One night at the Electric Mole, I met Julia,
the daughter of new and prosperous
socialites in town. She was incredible—
the most amazing eyes. We would stay
awake through most nights holding each
other beneath the moonlit window. We
talked about everything there, but mostly
about our disdain for the construction
and the flood of immigrant owls. I would
tell her, “We seem to be the only two who
are concerned, who notice. The only two
who want out…”
“…Who want a simpler life,”
she would say. “The only two who…who…”
Besides the additional musicality of the line breaks and the use of more fragments, especially in the opening, the main difference in this version is how the single stanza drives the poem. As mentioned before I think the white space informs the reading, allowing readers to take their time with the poem and progress into the metaphor and surrealism. In this version, however, I think that effect is lost because the added musicality pulls the reader without much room or time to reflect or deal with what is happening. Not until the indentation leading into the final two lines and notably Julia’s sole primary appearance does the reader have a chance to pause. While it may be a bias of having read the prose version first, I think this version of the poem lacks the tightness in readability that allows the message to really shine through.
At first, the poetic grumpyhead in me was mumbling about the abundance of paragraphs, but honestly, I realize that these are certainly poems and the prose form that is abundant is the best move as it allows Schomburg to do what he does best. Where many poems, mine included, are aided by linebreaks and a more stanza’ed form as it matches and controls the musicality and reading of the poem, most of Schomburg’s poems, especially his best ones, utilize their surrealism and symbolism as their catalyst for reading the poem. Rereading this poems, I find myself caught in the rhythm of the wild things happening on the page, engrossed and loving it. That is enough for me right now.