Janet Buck Review of Last Man Standing
by Alan Catlin
Review of Last Man Standing, by Alan Catlin
Reviewer: Janet I. Buck, author of Dirty Laundry: A memoir in verse & Samantha Stone: A Novel of Mystery, Memoir & Romance
Alan Catlin’s newest print collection of poetry, Last Man Standing, is a raw, engaging vision of dark, demented, but very real, aspects of our lives. To begin with, the alluring cover is carefully crafted to reflect content and themes throughout the book. Here stands an abstract painting of a bartender, one aptly dressed in uniform, ready to serve his clients steeped in despair, people who walk through his doors to drown their sorrows, numb themselves regarding both global distress and personal woes. His arms are folded tightly against his chest, an evocative touch that suggests the need for self-defense in regard to tragedies afflicting everyone’s lives. His face is faceless, blurry—purposely—which makes him an invisible deity as well an “everyman” assessing the dirt and smut beneath our fingernails.
Catlin, himself, throughout Last Man Standing, delivers each poem as an utterly believable, albeit sad, portrait of what Fate itself does to humans, as well as the commonly made choice of drowning each cloying issue in booze, in lieu of looking of looking in the bathroom mirror. His talent for description in a manuscript completely devoid of cliché, replete with moving and penetrating detail, is more than fodder for thought. As a poet, Catlin is subtly asking the world to change its screwed-up song, but does it to the beat of musical verse/prose and well-honed narrative technique. His non-judgmental attitude leaves the reader to come to his own conclusions, thereby inciting readers to reflect, assess, and change the way they alter the world or hide from it, as the case may be.
Don’t look for birds and butterflies, for daffodils popping through the watered soil. Don’t expect a doctrinaire minister to tell you how to live—Catlin shows you how to accomplish that by exploring, in exquisite detail, how ruination rules the world and thereby needs a fix of sanity, common sense, and compassion—instead of a double scotch on the rocks. This fine and much-celebrated poet delivers words that describe the Saturday night palsy all too common on our urban streets, but his message stretches all the way from Malaysia to Denver, Colorado—a place we might mistake frozen souls for mountains of pristine snow.
There is a clairvoyant sense of urgency here—to pull the curtains on denial—to live before it’s too late. In a poem entitled “Crime Scene,” images such as organs steeping in formaldehyde—one woman’s choice for “punchbowl additives”—are arresting, shocking, and they stick like bubblegum to shoes. When I read that poem, I saw my liver in a jar—one that would have been pickled by now had I not given up the crutch of booze twenty years ago and turned to writing for release.
The arrangement of this collection is flawless—it fits like fingers in a glove. Last Man Standing is a must-read book for those who wish to break the silence and act to change the world or, at the very least, find a way to live in it. Buckle your seatbelt—buy this book—sit down with your liquid of choice—then wander through exactly what our world has become by virtue of apathy, terror, cruelty, self-destructive behavior, and sweeping distress. You’re in for the ride of your life. Last Man Standing is an unforgettable masterpiece—it’s Catlin’s vivid eye for seeing in the dark that—in the end—sheds the presence of redeeming light.