A Poverty of Words, by Frederick Pollack, is a dense, heavy book of poetry that readers can expect to read several times to fully grasp. If you wish to read A Poverty of Words, I recommend you curl up on your couch, pour a big glass of wine, and get ready to sink your teeth into these poems (and to answer your question “Did she just use a cliché in a poetry review,” I did). Despite its density, readers can find meaning between the pages of this book. Whether that meaning will resonate with you, though, could depend on your age.
As a millennial, I found the troubling observation of my technology-focused generation to be the most prominent theme in this book. Pollack writes in “RSVP,” “When all your friends of your youth, dead or otherwise, / have entered a zone / inaccessible to cell-phone, / Google, email, social media / and private detection, you’re free / without occultist hype to summon them / for dinner and drinks.” Obviously the narrator feels that some people are so wrapped up in technology they may as well be in a cult. There’s a clear gap throughout the book between the young and the old, and it seems that the narrator struggles with understanding the next generation.
Although Pollack touches on other themes throughout the book such as politics and religion, it is the struggle between millennials and baby boomers that strikes me the most, and this conflict never reaches a resolution. The narrator in these free-verse poems never quite understands the youth he sees plugged into their iPads, and the youths are too distracted by flashing screens to understand the narrator. In “The Recession,” Pollack writes, “On a deck-chair, a young hero / taps his iPad, which also / sings to him through earbuds, / while on his thigh another phone/ vibrates…” Although the narrator does not directly condemn the behavior of youth, the judgmental tone in many of these poems indicates the narrator does not approve and he really has no interest in trying to understand.
These are not easy poems to grasp. A Poverty of Words is not a book you should pull out before you head to bed. It takes patience, something stereotypical millennials lack. This does not feel like a book for the young. A Poverty of Words is a book for people who grew up without smart phones and who wish to sit together in nostalgia for the “old days,” pointing out the problems with today’s young people. Pollack’s poems have moments of beauty, where figurative language, sound and rhythm come together in a superb way. But the overarching theme to me was not one the reader needed. The young know they are hated for their reliance on technology. The old agree that life was better before the internet. These generalized statements are not new or insightful. Perhaps the narrator’s disdain and unwillingness to understand the next generation is what the reader can learn from. Rather than become like the narrator, each generation can attempt to understand the other.
If you’re willing to approach A Poverty with Words with the patience it requires, and you’re willing to see both sides of a generational gap, pour your wine and divulge in this book. If you’d rather check Facebook, A Poverty of Words isn’t for you.
Fox Adoption Magazine recieved a review copy of this book. We recieved no other compensation, and the opinions expressed in this review are sorely those of the reviewer.