Sweet, John: Three Works

Sweet, John. landscape w/ solitude / modigliani’s gun. Holy&intoxicated Publications, 2019. Broadside.
—. approximate wilderness. Flutter Press, 2016. Paperback, 41 pp.
—. a nation of assholes w/ guns. Scars Publications, 2015. Paperback, 32 pp.

—–In the author’s note on the back cover of his gritty and powerful collection approximate wilderness, John Sweet speaks of the book’s poems as “not defeatist but cathartic.” I think this description fits all three of the works under consideration in this review. Sweet’s poems are edgy, violent, and chaotic. To oversimplify, I would say they are in the Bukowski mode: with the form being short, jagged lines, with little capitalization or punctuation; and with the content being sex, booze, depravity, and squalor, with a sprinkling of high-art and pop-culture references. However, Sweet’s world is his own: many of the poems feature war (whether literal or metaphorical) as a backdrop, and frequently they are set in a chilly, post-industrial North. Other characteristic motifs include missing persons (often female and pregnant), guns, adultery, lonely children, and fragmented Christian imagery. In some respects, this mayhem is Sweet’s critique of America. He makes this clear in the final lines of his poem “rise” (from approximate wilderness):

_____in the end
_____it’s some 19 year old asshole w/ a knife
_____cutting open the animal’s belly just
_____to watch it bleed its life out

_____just to feel the crystal meth rush
_____of mindless annihilation

_____just to be so goddamn american

Nevertheless, the poems are cathartic, and—I like to believe—art beats death every time. Take the final lines of Sweet’s “litany of concentric circles” (from approximate wilderness):

_____static poured out of the hole in his heart and
_____he said the poem was the important thing

_____said the gun was just a metaphor but
_____he wouldn’t stop bleeding

_____laughed when i showed him what i’d written
_____and told me i’d better try again

–Tom Zimmerman
15 August 2020