A debut poetry collection harnesses the power of the vernacular.
Mark Rylance, former artistic director of the Globe Theatre in London, is fond of reminding people that the first line of Hamlet is “Who’s there?” Rylance’s point is that Shakespeare, for all his putative difficulty, likes to hang his verse on language folks might use every day. It’s hard not to think of Rylance’s insight when reading the poetry of Torok, an author whose verse thrives on its close proximity to common speech. Readers see a prime example of this in “The Selling of Joseph.” The poem is about a man who murders his wife, and the centerpiece of the final stanza is a line from the killer himself: “When I met him, I found myself, / a stenographer. I wanna say I’m sorry / for shooting my wife. I shouldn’ta / done that. I stopped writing, / his candor the clearest sign.” Torok is a writer of skill and subtlety, but in this moment, he defers to the simple “candor”—and the brutal honesty—of everyday language. Of course, the husband’s utterance is also an admission of guilt, and readers hear echoes of the confessional mode in other pieces in the book, much of which touches on the pain of lost love. In “Refocusing,” the author laments the breakup of a marriage years after its death: “I sort pictures / in my mind, a beautiful / girl I once knew. She is far away / from me now, though we are still / close. I would like to be holding her / hand. I would like to go home quiet / in the car. I would like to have her / tell me things will be alright. / She cannot.” In these touching, deeply personal lines, Torok gives readers a speaker baring his soul. Yet formal concerns are never far from the poet’s mind, and his canny placement of line breaks lets the disruptions in the piece mirror the disturbances in the relationship.
Accomplished and uncommonly moving poems.