Vincent Colistro’s debut casts an uncanny eye towards absurdity. Late Victorians is a skilled foray into the essential and the laughable, the poems bristling with attention. Colistro skewers and exposes with blithe ease: here is adulthood, there, poetics, nearby, magic, further afield, sex and death. The collection dismantles and demands, managing to adore and flout convention both.
Colistro is a master satirist. In “Food,” he describes an exaggerated meal where the “amuse-bouche was water chestnuts and duck air” and the “post-appetizer was a sound course. / Canary whistles and horse hooves clacking on a paved road.” “Town Hall” catalogues complaints from enraged citizens, whose concerns span littering Ghost Walk tourists, a dog with gut worms, and a ruined acid trip. In “Leisure,” a man affords himself “the rare opportunity to just bleed everywhere,” with fatal consequences, while in “Art,” artists teeter over sincerity into farce: “A movement started on the James Bay pier – / the artists just held a canvas up to the breakwater / and waited for art to crash in.” Colistro deftly places himself backstage to the world’s foibles—and takes notes.
Late Victorians is a feast to both eye and ear, replete with internal rhyme, thundering repetition and strange bedfellows of language. His poems constructed soundly on the shoulders of form, Colistro wields villanelles, refrains, rhyming tercets and free verse with aplomb. The collection offers a generous fistful of perfect images: there are “trench coat stingrays” in “The Annihilist,” while in “He and I” “the sky puts on its dark underwear.” The speaker in “Adulthood” imagines “pulling hairy carrots / from their life below metaphors, brewing / my beer that’ll knock our friend out cold, / leave him asleep on our bosomy / couch.” Colistro’s diction is nimble, at times earthy, always exact.
Underneath the craft of Late Victorians is an anxiety that gives the collection its heft. Colistro’s speaker is adrift in adulthood, mystified by appearance and performance, experiencing events from without and within simultaneously. In “The Love Song,” the speaker concludes “I think of anguish as when a bus first ducks underground / and suddenly, in the window, all you’re left to look at is yourself.” No stranger to melancholy, the speaker literally loses his heart in “Regathering,” its recovery one of the collection’s quieter moments: “I’d given up on getting it back, when I crawled / into bed and Michelle flung a half-asleep arm /around me. And there it was, gathered. I have to give / the little bastard credit, my heart, it knows how to get home.”
The collection’s best work appears when Colistro cracks open fear and finds insight. Vulnerability balances Late Victorians and elevates it beyond intellectual exercise, putting Colistro within reach of his speaker’s grandiosity: “I wanted to say something / about art that had been only dreamed of.”
Emily Davidson writes and works in Vancouver, BC, far from her hometown of Saint John, NB. Her poetry and fiction have appeared in magazines across the country.
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