First off, you're probably wondering why I'm reviewing a chapbook. Well, it did win the Slipstream chapbook competition; that's prestigious enough. And chapbooks aren't often reviewed, so there's a novelty factor. But I'll be frank. I received this book as a conciliation. That means I entered Slipstream's chapbook contest and lost and they sent me a copy of the winning book for my $15.00. That means I'm about to say that this book is a piece of...well, it's pretty good, actually. See, I cracked it open fully expecting it to reinforce my fervent belief that I'd been gypped. No such luck.
Irwin's collection is spare and yearning, his characters desperate and driven. The poems center around a working class reality. Though he hails from NY state, Irwin manages a Midwestern scarcity, an immediacy in the lives of his characters that reveal a poet wise in voice but young enough to capture the fire of a 20-something looking down the long hall of a blue-collar career. "Sons of Sisyphus," he calls them, in "Cadillacs," "toil(ing)/in the purgatory of/Monday through Friday, men/ hard as gravel."
Irwin's poems are lean and brooding, quiet portraits of characters leading dissonant lives. "I think/how my father and grandfather worked," he says in "At the Grocery," of all the dreams they must've swallowed/to put food on the table, pay the mortgage/and know I'm not that faithful or strong."
I found myself reading and reading these poems, savoring them like dark chocolate. In taking notes for this review, instead of finding lines to quote, I kept marking whole poems. I see my father in these poems, my brother, myself. This is rare. Usually all I see in poems is the poet. If that.
>So, if I'm going to lose to a collection, I'm glad it was this one. This is, of course, what I should expect from Slipstream, who've previously published chapbooks by Sherman Alexie, Robert Cooperman, Gerald Locklin, etc. etc. So, go to the Slipstream website, (http://www.slipstreampress.org/) print out the order form, write a check for $7.00 and send it in. So maybe you can't afford to go see that movie you've been looking forward to until next week. That's okay. Another remake or sequel will be along by then. You won't have missed anything.
-Originally published in Ghoti Magazine