Reviewed by Daniel Shoemaker
Interloper begins with the inscription (attributed to Walt Whitman) “The day wore on, and the sun went down in the west; still the interloper, gloomy and taciturn, made no signs of departing.” Klatt, like his hero Whitman, is the interloper, the poet. He is the unsolicited prompter of questions. His voice is deliberate and wise, making no dogmatic claims, preferring to elicit meditations on the “indefinite. Infinite,” though rarely succumbing to it, as his poem “The Ominous Cross” suggests.
“Provincetown,” the book’s opening poem, establishes many of the motifs and stylistic trademarks that Klatt returns to throughout Interloper. It is a characteristically brief poem (none is more than a page long) about a model glider. In it, the innocence and ignorance of a child is undermined by the implicit violence of his war fantasies:
Yokefellow, how steep our swoop,
what coastline what distance?
As if we travel well,
as if potentate
The hinge of the engine-less rudder
A plane alone does not know what to do, or towards what shore to fly. It, like Klatt’s poetry, needs a helmsman, someone to interpret the scenes and posit advice.
“What can be salvaged?” “How then do we prophesy?” If Klatt asks, it is because he does not know. His poetry is steeped with humility before the vastness of space and the harshness of reality. Klatt invokes Jesus, Darwin and the purple of the cosmos to situate civilization as near a microscopic molecule in some greater eternal body. All his questions do not speak to such sanctuaries of thought. Klatt also asks, “when do these canned meats expire?” His subtle humor carries the book from beginning to end in one sitting, and linguistic cocktails like “forlornographic” make palatable the self-pleasure of misery.
As in “Provincetown,” the relationship between innocence and violence is explored in great depth throughout Interloper. Children’s toys and games often become vehicles of dominance and contention. In “I Swallowed a Deck of Cards” spades and clubs act out racial tensions, despite their common origins, culminating in a reenactment of the horrific 1998 lynching of James Byrd. “International Orange” describes a model F16, destined for “moonlight immolation” and piloted by a stick figure who plays “Aces & pick-up sticks.” The poem “Fetus in Orbit” entertains imagery from 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick’s indictment of technology and man’s penchant for violence. The movie’s final image of a human fetus floating through space becomes that of an unborn cow, a playmate and a wonder for the narrator, who later unwillingly encounters the violence innate and pervasive in the pursuit of survival,
I was told I would eat a thousand cows,
I lay there, disbeliever, like a figure 8 in milk
As much as Klatt may seek direction, he concedes to the futility of intention: he “[has] no more use for a steering wheel than an 8 ball.” Klatt’s questions spin back upon and bisect themselves, his imagery does “loop-the-loops & figure-8s.” The recurrent use of this reoriented infinity is a mathematic and pictorial tool. Klatt employs both throughout Interloper, balancing his existential inquiries with data and numbers, graphs and graphics. Symbols and charts become non-verbal poetry. A head without a body swings from an un-played game of hangman. The circle that sways from the minimally rendered gallows may also be metronome mid-beat or a hypnotist’s tool or perhaps some lever in the machine the narrator is forced to kiss.
As much as some of the poems in Interloper are verbally irreproducible, many are driven by their percussive cadence. Music is used as a second native language. Its symbols become words and ideas that scope beyond written language. There are “musical rules for the apocalypse” and a “siss-boom skitter beat” for love. Words tumble together into a symphony of images, often correlated only by their context. Together the sounds and their meanings paint a large sonic canvas peppered with explosions of life and stasis, an image to be read over ages.
The poems in Interloper belong to no one time. They contain pork that expired in March 2009 and domestic relics like a washboard. There is a strain of post-industrial mistrust that loosely situates, and runs parallel through, most of these poems. They often chart the evolution of humans away from humanity and leave foreboding hints towards their mutual demise. In a collection of poetry so kinetic and transitory, using literal vehicles as metaphorical vehicles, scenes of atom bombs and the apocalypse offer possible limits to the telescoping path of humanity. In “Body: Rhapsody” a smashed car is a crumpled Coca-Cola can. U.S. recklessness and consumerism collide. There is a distinctly American tone to Klatt’s work: from paranoia to pride, the American ethos is called into constant question.
Interloper is a cohesive body, indicative of many years honing. Its vibrant images of memory and doubt, despite their ambiguous cohesion, foster a common ground between author and reader. Existence is portrayed as equally uninviting and inevitable.