Jeff Latosik’s Safely Home Pacific Western is a unique take on a travelogue, focusing on the impact of the sights along the way and exploring varieties of individual interpretation. In part II of the title poem, the speaker situates himself “in an asteroid belt of the things not that we just lost / but never felt departing. How did all that become so distant / in me?” This is one gesture towards the sense of disconnectedness from place that is returned to throughout, and is tied to Safely Home’s other preoccupations with memory, boundaries, and invention.
Specific locales serve as punctuation for the abstract ideas the poet is interested in exploring. Latosik excels in allowing the reader to stumble across images and names that are familiar, but are not necessarily spelled out. It feels as though the poems propel past known sites, in various modes of transportation, with no map or guide. We find ourselves in Mile End, Montreal; Sneaky Dee’s in Toronto; obliquely in suburban and urban settings; yet also in images or film depictions of places and historical figures that are perhaps otherwise inaccessible.
Measured throughout the book are brief, specific, and subject-driven poems, like “Phosphorous” and “Hydrogen”, which offer an insightful reprieve, as they do not have the strange changes in logical direction that the reader comes to expect. One of my favourite examples of these twists is in “The Patent Addresses the Inventor”:
It isn’t that you’re lost en route,
but that there’s no lost to mention
a series of infinite entrances
leading to the room you’re standing or not standing in.
Here, the speaker questions his own suspicions; the feeling of being lost somehow becomes swallowed up by other possibilities.
Latosik’s voice can be cryptic at times, which extends to entire poems; often though, the simplification of a line or phrase would improve overall clarity. As one example, a line that reads “a demolition being reversed” could perhaps be simplified to “construction.” Other poems would benefit from more immediate explication for the reader to feel situated. The poem “Larry Krupa” is named for a Canadian Pacific Railroad figure in one of the largest emergency evacuations in North America. However, I am happy to do the homework for this piece. It’s vivid, explorative, and brings the reader to a sophisticated level of thought, which is an unexpected place.
In an interview with the Town Crier online, Latosik admits that when it comes to silliness versus seriousness, “I’m someone who’s too serious for his own good. And so if the spirit of the question is to suggest that there should be a balance, I probably don’t strike it.” This is certainly a serious collection, though Latosik does strike more towards the absurd than the humorous.
The clarity of meaning in many of the poems is challenging to decode, but readers of Safely Home Pacific Western will find themselves revisiting the book for just this purpose, to find adventure, following the voice of the poet to its intended destination.
Allison LaSorda currently lives in Parkdale, Toronto. Her reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in The Malahat Review, The Fiddlehead, Lemon Hound, and Brick, A Literary Journal.