My review of The Political Economy of Tango in the Twenty-First Century appeared in issue 64 of The Journal.
Where to start with this collection by Richard Schwarz? Begin with the beginning, then, or at least the title, which is very good in this case. The Political Economy of Tango in the Twenty-First Century: it’s both fun and recondite, the kind of thing John Stammers might have written. It leads one to expect a kind of dance irony and seriousness, of concrete detail and an embrace of theoretical flights, so it’s a shame when this isn’t really borne out by the contents of the book.
When we get to the poems, the minimalism on display is reminiscent of Raymond Carver, although the work is a bit more fluid and less inclined to offer narrative shape. The work chases after abstractions (‘How Long Is A Piece of String’) although there’s something rigid and one-note about the thought processes, and given that one of the piece is called ‘Phrases that have recently fallen into disuse’ there’s a preponderance of received statements (if we’re being kind) or cliches (if we’re not). Somewhere along the line, Schwarz has decided that an ever reducing line length across a poem represents a form he wants to investigate, although you end up wishing he’d left it on the hard drive, as too often those spare lines leads to a kind of Thribbish gravitas.
What the work is calling for all round is a bit more shape and attention and I mean that as much about the publication as a whole, as someone has really let Schwarz down by spelling his name wrong on the spine. It’s a basic point, but one worth making: the opportunity to test a work, let it cool and revisit it after rejection, is what poetry magazines are for. I’ve probably got stuck in the Stockholm syndrome of magazine submissions, but I like to see evidence of a decent track record of publications when I look at a collection. That’s not on display here. Like a kettle or pubic hair, proof of poetry publications isn’t essential, but you tend to notice it when it’s not around. Time for Schwarz to get on the dance floor.