Copper Canyon Press, $15 (paper)
Matthew Zapruder’s urban, urbane approach to poetry has been described by some as “hip lyricism.” If that’s what it means to know how to write about love, beauty, justice, and hope (things that are “both breakable and strong”) while at the same time knowing when to toss in the occasional, judicious expletive (“Surrounded by motherfuckers / a boy slaps a red handball), then Zapruder is indeed a hip lyricist, one from whom we should look forward to hearing more in the future. As in his 2002 debut, American Linden, Zapruder’s second collection, The Pajamaist, presents its poems as objects of contemplation, opportunities to engage with ideas pertaining to aesthetics and values both personal and political. His subjects are, arguably, the eternal elements of poetry, but the way he addresses them is refreshingly modern. “What does not change is my t-shirt / for three days and the will / to check email,” he writes in the book’s central sequence, “Twenty Poems for Noelle,” a concentrated meditation on loss, mortality, and the comforts of friendship. Each poem in the collection is punctuated by wry self-deprecation and a sense of comic timing that leavens sorrow and which might be mawkish in lesser hands. The opening poem, “Dream Job,” a riff on the relationship between science and humanity as embodied by “tracking / the movement of birds / through spring” concludes, “Go, Jerry, soon you will be / in Canada where / Neil Young was born.” Yet even though his poems sometimes end in punch lines, Zapruder’s poetry is no joke. An underlying seriousness and compassion coupled with keen self-awareness (“no one ever leaves me / saying, the most touching thing / about him is he’s so human” he writes in “Canada”) let Zapruder move beyond his witty surfaces to deeper levels of complexity. “It’s enough,” he writes in the post-9/11 “Brooklyn with a New Beginning,” “to try to be beautiful.” But Zapruder’s poems don’t merely attempt beauty; they attain it.