China Beach

David Matlin, Author Station Hill Press $8.95 (103p) ISBN 978-0-88268-066-8
Perhaps the disjointedness and detachment of these poems reflect a deliberate attempt to mime the numbness of the Vietnam soldier--but, for the most part, this volume fails to engage the reader. Set mostly in late-1960s America and replete with references to figures, events and the popular culture of that time, these poems seem intended to confuse. Long sentences, with little punctuation and arbitrary line breaks, are unrewardingly strenuous; their difficulty is compounded by unexplained allusions, leaps in subject matter and abstract discourse (``the braided lines now of a teflon core's / depth of char closely proportional / to transient flaming's persistent ignition''). Many poems lack an identifiable narrator or stance; others include tirades so outraged as to be frivolous. Matlin ( Fontana's Mirror ) handles some subjects more convincingly: several poems about family members contain moments of tenderness; descriptions of the Southwest have a refreshing, almost scientific clarity; and the poet uses archetypal images hauntingly (``boats of the dead / wandering up and down the continent's central / joint''). But even these themes are incompletely developed; they do not compensate for the general obscurity here. (July)
Reviewed on: 01/01/1989
Release date: 01/01/2010
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