Pollack, Frederick: Landscape with Mutant

Pollack, Frederick. Landscape with Mutant. Smokestack Books, 182 pp.

_____I had a vision: future readers reading
_____and weeping over my crass,
_____sardonic oeuvre, even resurrecting
_____print and paper for its sake, seeing only
_____sighs and love and fleeting beauty.

_____Thus ends Frederick Pollack’s “Opus Posthumous,” one of many superb poems in his excellent collection Landscape with Mutant. I think Pollack is his own best critic. Many of the poems in this book are sardonic (I’m not so sure they’re “crass”), but they are also intelligent, ironic, allusive, and keen to apprehend beauty, even though the worldview in them is dystopian. Reading this book, I was reminded of Kafka (mentioned in a couple of the poems), Vonnegut, and Philip K. Dick—and also of Leonard Cohen, especially his album The Future, the title song of which features variations on the refrain “I have seen the future, brother / It is murder.”

_____Indeed, Pollack is a critic—of the banality and brutality of contemporary society—but is smart and humane enough to make himself or his first-person speaker (a leftist artist-intellectual, I gather from the evidence of the poems) complicit in the horror. Take, as proof, these final lines from “Sad Café”:

_____I took out my notebook and wrote
_____the future.
_____. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
_____Outside a homeless man, a member
_____of the new International, knocked and
_____sank to the ground beside the window,
_____uttering those obscure remarks which,
_____if listened to, would not have to be made.

Or these, from “Day Eight of Trump”:

_____Rush-hour begins, ever earlier; the cars
_____along Macarthur hopefully alert
_____for children, speed traps, and the forecast rain.
_____You can be certain you’re an enemy.
_____It’s your choice whether also to be a threat.

Or these, from “Recognition,” in which the speaker imagines himself as an amateur clown at a children’s party (a telling metaphor in itself):

_____I can already hear
_____them crying at my gig—from ambivalence,
_____frustration? Perhaps the new horror
_____is not being dressed as a clown, only a grownup.

_____However, this book (which, I should mention, includes more than 100 poems) also offers “sighs and love and fleeting beauty.” The surprisingly tender “For P., ill” closes with

_____Feeling hurt myself,
_____I find myself wondering how one could hurt
_____everyone. it seems unfair
_____that only the top .001
_____% can do that.

_____I’d kill them all if it would make you better.

In “The Print,” Pollack lets an old man (a version of himself, perhaps?) do most of the talking, as he ruminates on the “something, someone beautiful” portrayed in a dim sketch within a dusty frame. And there are the paired “hotel” poems that I would like to think are autobiographical: “Elitist, Motel 6,” which gives us a current portrait of the artist, who has “been so busy lately. . . And / successful, in my way”; and “The Colours of the Roofs,” a portrait of the artist as a “sensitive young man / roaming alone and fateless with no aim / but experience through a foreign city, . . . / . . . a negligible figure.” Also moving (and if not autobiographical at least metaphorical) are two science fiction-tinged pieces in which the monster is the protagonist. In the book’s title poem, the speaker surmises,

_____Under the grey still sky, I’d collate
_____my notes. The mutation doesn’t know
_____it carries the future
_____in its genes; it only feels
_____like a freak, like one of the failures
_____littering the range.
_____. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
_________________________I have plans
_____for universal empathy and forgiveness
_____if I am allowed to breed.

Then, in “Godzilla,” the iconic city-wrecking reptile assumes almost tragic status:

__________________properly understood,
_____[he] might connect with his audience, the screamers,
_____the soldiers—their great secret theme,
_____too, is Innocence. And sometimes he voices
_____the cry of any outsider talent:
_____Look for what’s in my work instead of what isn’t!

Again, this poet is his own best critic. There is so much in Frederick Pollack’s Landscape with Mutant that the reader needn’t grieve over what isn’t.

–Tom Zimmerman
18 August 2020