Review: At Age Twenty

At Age Twenty by Maxwell Baumbach
(unbound CONTENT, 2012)

Maxwell Baumbach’s poems are perceptive, ambitious, and unapologetic. They are also wryly aware that age seldom listens to youth with the kind of respect these poems yearn for.

the god is………
this is your….reality
your………….world (“Kaleidoscopes (an experimental sestina)” pg 20)

but the world does not cease
leaving its oversized handprints on my back
shoving me
onward (“My Fifth Birthday” pg 64)

While I usually prefer more complexity of sound, there’s plenty of music here. It’s a raw music of line breaks and candor: “I am your / zip lock lover” (“Zip Lock Lover” pg 25), “your eyes are gods / they make me believe that I am / capable…” (“the gods in your eyes” pg 28), and “no one kills themselves / on their own” (“Lemmings” pg 69).

There’s chaos and gratitude. Despair, sarcasm, and humor. The world is vulnerable and absurd. Brakes fail, Harry Caray sings through a seventh-inning stretch, and pro wrestlers soar and fall. Orion has a belt but no pants.

Some of these poems are terse fragments of dialogue, others are expansive recollections. They drop F-bombs, have a few drinks, and fall in love. Bruises and broken hearts are part of the journey, as are breathtaking insights.

I couldn’t help seeing the future in this book, nestled inside one of my favorite poems from the collection:

Sphere Within a Sphere

I saw a sculpture
in Ireland
of the new world
emerging from the old one

it is not the
now rusting gold
or the curvature
of the spheres
that made it so wondrous

but rather
that this sculpture
will be perpetually relevant

(reprinted with the author’s permission)

The new world is, indeed, emerging from the old.

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