Saturday, February 27, 2010

Review: "Exhuming Juliet : A New Orleans Poet"

(also posted on Amazon and my MySpace blog)

Matthew Nolan's first book, Crumpled Paper Dolls: A New Orleans Poet, struck me like few other books had. Its sheer genius for exposing the raw nerves and sensual acts like a wanton harlot was something I didn't expect. I was shocked, enthralled and repelled at the same time. I LOVED it. So when I found out that he was coming out with a second book, I was giddier than a little girl about to receive her first Barbie doll. Even though I couldn't really afford it, I purchased my copy as soon as I found out it had been released.

I expected to be blown away by powerful prose that revealed its multitude of broken and healing hearts to me, something which perhaps poets understand better than others. I was indeed pleased with this book. While the words from Crumpled Paper Dolls: A New Orleans Poet seemed to scream at and caress me simultaneously, "Exhuming Juliet" tells stories using images I had seen before in my own life, with his personal quest for love and a family present with each exhumation, conjuring thoughts of a modern-day Heathcliff digging up his beloved Cathy in order to relive those memories associated with her decomposing shell. There are many pictures brought to your minds eye, most of which are sexually frank and detailed, with several mentions of pregnant and impregnating women. This gallery of imagery is laid out for all to see, unashamed and unapologetic. As you read on, you will get a better sense of what those images represent to the poet himself...a great desire, a dream that must be fulfilled.

Towards the end of the book you will come across two brief chapters entitled simply, "Love Letters" and "Journals", which show you just as much about the poet as his poems in nearly a tenth the amount of space. I was devoured by the words of a man, isolated and full of dreams, who has so much love to give...pouring out words that ramble on in a beautiful myriad of adjectives describing how every fiber of his being is feeling. I have written many similar letters myself and recognized the honesty and intensity of those emotions. It isn't clear whether Mr. Nolan's letters are addressed to a single Juliet or several, regardless you can see the high level of love he is capable of, which any woman should be lucky to know even for a single moment in life.

Another prominent figure featured strongly in this book is New Orleans herself, post-Katrina. You can feel the anguish caused to a city so full of life. It's almost as though Mr. Nolan has deliberately thrown a handful in your face, forcing you to see the tragedy and sadness of it all as he takes you on a guided tour.

Overall, Exhuming Juliet is a fine addition to the modern world of poetry. Mr. Nolan uses the right amount of descriptives to bring an honest and bold look into his personal strifes and psyche, showing you snapshots of the past as if he were showing off lovely corpses lined together in a morgue. It's definitely not for the casual reader who may prefer lighter material. You may not want to look deeper at first, but in the end find it so real, so beautiful in its unwashed glory that it proves irresistible.

I urge all of you, those who think that poetry is a dead art, to pick up a copy of this book (and if you haven't already, Crumpled Paper Dolls: A New Orleans Poet as well). You will find poetry is alive and thriving in New Orleans, just waiting for one more person to take notice. I hope that next person is you.