Arsenic Lobster poetry journal Issue Thirty-one
Spring 2013
Counting Sheep Till Doomsday
Carlo Matos

BlazeVOX Books 2011
ISBN: 978-1-60964-083-5

Big Bad Asterisk*
Carlo Matos

BlazeVOX Books 2013
ISBN: 978-1-60964-119-1

Read Carlo’s poems in Arsenic Lobster Issue Twenty-eight Spring 2012, Issue Twenty-eight Spring 2012

Let me be really honest with you. When someone writes a book of poems that includes a “flatulence” section, he’s won my eternal love. That someone is Carlo Matos and that book is Counting Sheep Till Doomsday. My eternal love is in the mail.

“There are so few serious songs about shit,” he writes. Oh? Tell me more. He continues, in “In the Spider House”:

                To a spider, it is serious like
                an old-world table: expectations to be met, a
                host’s ancient duty, life and death. They do
                not dare laugh at a fart’s deep echo

At the end of the book, Matos and composer Stephen Jean put the words of “In the Spider House” together with music and performance notes. They write, “All ‘notes’ above the middle line of the staff are to be performed as burps or belches; all ‘notes’ below the middle line are to be performed as farts.”

As funny or odd or wonderful as that sounds, when I sat down to read the “song” and contemplate how this piece actually would be performed, I enjoyed it so much more for its creative complexity and playfulness. A slurred half note fart that trills from double forte to pianissimo? Oh, yes!

Now, I don’t mean to define Matos’s writing only with flatulence. These book(s) have a whole lot more going on. Matos takes this same uniquely clever voice and carries it throughout both books, Counting Sheep Till Doomsday and Big Bad Asterisk*, from BlazeVOX Books.

Both follow a similar format—square-ish, amusing prose poems marked by shades of fighting and violence in a small quarter-page-sized book. These prose poems chuckle and guffaw along, and then someone gets violently assaulted on the street or gored by a bull. From Big Bad Asterisk*:

                Then someone’s hands
                were on her, and she was being pushed towards
                the wall. It happened fast, inevitable like the tide
                coming in. It was the old man. He had his hands
                on her. Then someone said, ‘Habla Ingles?’ in a
                nasty way. She couldn’t think … or wouldn’t.*

Big Bad Asterisk* is the story of a man, He/Ele, and the mysterious woman he encounters, She/Ela, and their intersections—It/Ele, Ela and They/Eles, Elas. I find Matos’s books to be a refreshing departure from what I’m used to seeing in poetry—they are varied, conversational and unafraid. Plus, there’s the asterisk—the surprise at the end of the poem, the further explanation or iteration, the small insight, the punch line.

                And at the end … he did not want to be counted
                among the deadbeat dads.*

                *Especially metaphysically.

When I first encountered the “asterisk” poems, I really enjoyed them as single poems, each telling a single story. I enjoyed them for their occasional humor, too.

                Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, she says. Bill Gates walks into an average bar. The man walks into
                the room and they are all instant millionaires—the law of averages, the power of math.

Looking at the Asterisk* poems collectively in their chapters, Matos has woven together the lives of the people in these vignettes, much like one would experience Winesburg, Ohio. It’s not a new form by any means, but thinking about Matos’s poems in comparison to Anderson’s got me thinking about genre. Are these poems or fictions? Are these characters living in some liminal space between genres? I don’t know the answer. I do know that I enjoyed the book—that it is pleasing, jarring, violent, funny, engaging, and clever.

Both books break the traditional model of what one would expect to find in a book of prose poems—the Point A and Point B, the beginning and end. Matos combines the fun “flatulence” song among poetry chapters, Portuguese translations, an indecipherable nano-chapter, and a section of Doomsday called “The Insomniac’s Cookbook” that fits outside the rest of the book’s language. In these two books, I see the poet’s wide range of abilities.

At the end of Asterisk*, Matos has translated and adapted some poems from Portuguese. Santos Pavão Matos wrote the originals, and the translations are beautiful tales of leaving one’s home, and the heartache from it.

“I am a wind that blows and whistles through the / cane fields—that beats against the door and lets / disaster in, never for it to leave again,” writes Carlo Matos in one translation/adaptation.

Matos has transformed caesuras into single lines, has framed the craggy edges of original poems into neat, fit squares. Because they’re adaptations, he uses asterisks with these, too. The original text is in the footnote.

I don’t know about you, but I love to read books that knock my socks off. Counting Sheep Till Doomsday and Big Bad Asterisk* both do that for me. I have a pile of windblown socks by my bed. What I’m trying to say is: You really need to read these books.

                And if not, could you sleep knowing
                what you had done?*

                *or what you have not done?

Review by Jessica Dyer