Can't Stop Now! by John Yamrus
Reviewed by Dominic Scopa
Can’t Stop Now!, by John Yamrus, features poems that vivify the mundane and often overlooked events of daily existence. Yamrus and the speakers in his poems ring with a candid honesty, relying on the concrete “deathly horrors” of life to convey everyday pain. Yamrus constructs the collections in such a way that his wry, and initially dismissible, tone provides both a comedic levity and a stark contrast to the heavier poems that appear at the beginning. Syntactically, Yamrus relies on simple sentence constructions and incipit titles. The simplicity of the lines and the subject matter deceives the reader into believing that the topics are metaphysically simple. The “deathly horrors” certainly appear very concrete in Yamrus’ poems, however, the implications that manifest in the minds of the readers is anything but simple. Some of the lines seem like they could benefit from the Hugo-esque edit of eliminating some coordinating conjunctions, however, the issue is miniscule in the grand schemes of these powerful poems.
The collection commences with poems that abolish the “absolutes” which give society “the chance to pin you down.” Yamrus favors the “deathly horrors that confront you every single day…those little things you love most.” This candid honesty pervades the entirety of the collection. In the first few poems, Yamrus covers several of these “deathly horrors:” stubborn boogers, car crashes, pesky Jehovah’s witnesses, pimples, hemorrhoids, and aging, to list a few. Many of the beginning poems centralize on an aging speaker who, ostensibly, greatly resembles Yamrus. The speaker in “Dr. Lambert,” a particularly poignant poem, recalls the house calls a childhood doctor made: “if you were sick, / he’d come around, / check your temperature, / give you a shot” (9-13). The speaker reveals that Dr. Lambert is dead, and that the new homeowners are tarnishing the once stately house with hideous paint. The speaker, Lambert, the house, and even the poem itself seem to age as the lines progress down the page. Yamrus certainly doesn’t glorify aging or death, remaining honest to the “deathly horrors” that plague the speakers in the collection: “Friday night. / without grace, / or gallantry, / or style. / he died” (1-5). All of these beginning poems that expound upon the “deathly horrors” exude this terse grit. However, Yamrus provides some much-needed, long-term comedic relief towards the middle of the collection.
This tongue-in-cheek humor reveals the greatness of Yamrus’ talent, because he devises the humor in such a way so that it does not sterilize or distill the heaviness present in the poems. Rather, the humor offers a circuitous approach to confronting the pain of everyday life. Ingeniously, it still permits the reader a certain relief from the obviously heavy poems beginning the collection. The speaker of a humorous poem, which portrays an aging female, employs this “laughter is the best medicine” method: “tonight, / (she thought) / if anyone / so much as / dared / make a comment about her looks, / it would soon get / fugly” (30-38). These lines may garner a snicker from the readers, however, the horrid truth of the poem and the effects of aging make them feel as if their laughter is unwarranted or even downright wrong. These conflicting emotions that flicker within the reader are further evidence of Yamrus’ skill. Some of the emotionally heavy lines in these humorous poems slam into the reader like a gong blast, due to the fact that the comedic levity makes the reader think the poem is lighthearted. One poem illustrates an interviewer asking the speaker if he takes notes while writing. The interviewer then randomly states that she guesses the writer’s life “must be a lonely life.” The response, the last line of the poem, functions as this gong blast: “believe me… / there are worse things / than being / lonely” (9-12). This poem, like many of these humorous poems found in the collection, applies the brakes and erratically alters the direction of the speaker’s mindset. The next batch of poems switch between the serious and black humorous, however, the final strength of the collection comes towards the end with poems that exhibit strong speakers.
One of the longest poems in the collection details a family reunion where two of the speaker’s uncles are swapping war stories. Someone shows the two veterans a combat photo of a kamikaze fighter about to crash into the aircraft carrier that one of the uncles served on. The uncles receive another chance to relive the experience of war: “when they saw / that picture, / with the / plane / slicing / through the sky… / they / stood up… / and they were / collectively / young / and tall / and strong” (66-73). This poem embodies the ending of the collection. The uncles undoubtedly suffer from the horrors of wartime memories, yet they directly confront them. This harkens back to the poems that started the collection creating a sense of completion.
Yamrus’ true talent lies, not only reaches the individual poems, but the organization of them. The organization gives the reader a chance to accept the “deathly horrors” with a stern demeanor. The ending poems depict this adversity. The readers and speakers may not necessarily escape the “deathly horrors” (who could escape from death or aging?), but they will certainly accept them.
While many of the poems in this collection may not cater to popular demand or literary critics, due to their brutal honesty and visceral vigor, but they “just might be precisely what they need.”