When Alors, Et Toi? invited me to review Matthew Abuelo’s new collection of poetry, I was curious to see what the thirty-something writer and activist, once 86ed from a Long Island coffee shop for criticizing the war in Iraq, had to say about his impressions of the world today.
Van Gogh, Degas, William S. Burroughs and Hunter S. Thompson, are among some of the artists and literary heroes he refers to in his writing. Inspired to believe that “all artists are vessels whose purpose is to create art and fade away,” he hopes to rediscover what the “old artists already knew,” which is to look outside the writer’s world, and be “governed by that which is greater than ourselves.”
Abuelo’s cadence-rich free verse handles themes such as war, urban decay and the suburban abyss. He writes of apathy, crippling boredom, and unrealized potential against the backdrop of national greed, corruption and world-wide disorder. Contrasting the shallow materialism of suburbia to the corrupt pleasure-seeking denizens of his modern-day Babylon, he seems locked in a symbiotic relationship with society that fuels a sense of disillusionment and isolation.
In his first poem, Untitled, he describes the “core of western culture” as “death fermenting” which encourages the greed that has led to the conflict in the Middle East. Shifting to his impressions of the superficial existence of bored Long Islanders reacting to the decaying corruption-machine that is “Babylon,” he ties the two themes together by lamenting “the cancelled voice of art,” which he seems to attribute to a population doomed by distraction, self-medication, meaningless sex, pollution and “depression without an outlet.”
With frequent references to the hard edge of urban life, I found myself feeling like a witness to dark dreamscapes. While the emotion of his work is accessible, but the imagery is in turns esoteric, abstractly violent and macabre. His sometimes ambiguous sensory descriptions yet vivid emotional reactions seem to encode his impressions of an ugly world--perhaps in order to be able to better digest them himself.
The title poem, Organic Hotels, has a distinct sense of being in his stream of consciousness. Nebulous descriptions of isolation, tenuous sexual connections and hazy anger finish with a sense desperate urgency. Such characteristic emotional variation and enigmatic sensory grit lead seem to be deeply personal but abstract reactions to specific events and concepts.
I found Abuelo’s verse to be intense and emotionally impressionistic. Despite the grim interior of his world, I felt compelled to look into unfamiliar political, symbolic, cultural or religious references to get a better idea of Abuelo’s worldview. I felt drawn to the wretched underbelly he described and frequently felt compelled to draw my own conclusions about the meaning behind his poetry.
Ultimately, art is subjective. We should be free to draw our own conclusions, left alone to think about what we’ve experienced long after we’ve finished looking at it. Organic Hotels offers the reader just that opportunity—to garner an impression of Abuelo’s perspective on the world while being free to come to our own conclusions and make our own meaning out of his poetry.
Nora Gruenberg is a thirty year old wife and mother of one. She lives in Chicago’s southwest suburbs and writes as often as possible. She has been published by 34th Parallel and is currently seeking publication to he first Novel “Dalia”