Vintage Gray by Joshua Michael StewartReviewed by Seth Jani
To begin this review I want to honestly say that this slim volume of 26 poems, beautifully designed with a glittering off-white cardstock cover by Pudding House Publications, would not only be a stunning addition to any bibliophile’s collection but may also be one of the most original and delightful gathering of poems currently available from a living poet.
Amongst the dozens of small/micro press poetry titles I read in a year, none stands up to the sheer originality, freshness of insight, and profound playfulness that Joshua Michael Stewart has managed to so gracefully contain within his lines.
Mr. Stewart fulfills the true age-old occupation of the poet, that of taking our narrowed, mundane perceptions of the world and turning them upside down, allowing the beautiful, wacky off-beat wonder of the universe to come pouring in.
It is no far stretch to claim that he is the trickster god of contemporary poetry, the Kokopelli of written rhythm.
In every poem we are offered a detail from the everyday world profoundly, marvelously, hilariously transformed.
In the poem “Punctuation” he starts off describing a question mark like no one before him “Follow through with the symmetry of its curve and you’ll create a hot-air balloon for fleas.” In “Snow Angels” he re-imagines this routine, winter activity as a whimsical metaphor for our own failed transcendence “Each night they stare into the sky and wonder why even with wings they cannot get off the ground.”
In the poem “Ghosts” Stewart furthers his gift of magical reversal, showcasing his warm love for the provinces of humanity and life on earth. In its brief 18 lines he performs a mental 180, overturning our normal conception of the afterlife as a place of spiritual bliss and picturing instead a world filled with ghostly longing for the peculiarly human “It’s the ability to imagine, the art of ignorance I’d pine for above all things, perhaps that is why apparitions often haunt our dreams.”
The only real pitfall of this collection is that one finishes it with an insatiable desire for more, and one is left desperately hoping that a full-length is in the works.
In conclusion this book is worth every penny, both for its content and its design. There is perhaps no other poet (that I know of a least) that can write with so much grace and originality, and in the wide community of the poetic word Mr. Stewart is a school unto himself.
He has all the whimsy and talent of a poet such as Billy Collins, along with a hint of something slightly more sophisticated and metaphysical, leaving me to believe he is one of those rare poets that is dually capable and deserving of a very large reading audience, one from both inside and outside of academia and the poetry publishing world. Go buy this one!