“We are four horsepersons/of a disappointing apocalypse, our famine/is for kindness, for a hand on the arm,/for a word whispered for the sake/of that word’s weight and its balm/on shattered eyes or its healing weight/in a gut yearning for sustenance.”
These lines embody the delicate balance of humor and seriousness found in Gabriel Welsch’s third full length collection of poetry, The Four Horsepersons of a Disappointing Apocalypse. First, the reader is tickled by the politically correct word choice of “horsepersons,” only to have that cleverness peeled away to reveal stunning and moving insights about the chaos of a world wrought with television, pop culture, and market capitalism. A simple glance through the table of contents leads one to believe that the collection situates itself solely in humor with slick titles such as ‘The Annoying Questions Faced at Parties by People Who Sell Office Supplies,” “The Television Makes Its Promise Between Channels,” and “Mr. Disagreeable Decides Not to Rant About How He Used to Be Somebody.” However, this collection strays far from shallow provocation, equally balancing coy, tongue in cheek wit alongside startling epiphanies.
Readers who bask in hilarity within poetry will not walk away disappointed from this collection. Welsch’s speakers convey an undeniable jesting tone, and I often found myself smirking with each page turn, as the titles promised a speaker with a keen sense of irony. Consider the first lines of “The Harridan’s Song”:
“It’s like even your shrubbery
wants to flip me off, like the shaggy maple
by the drive wears a Metal Up Your Ass
t-shirt and biker boots, wallet with a chain.
Your yard wants to kick my ass.”
The image of a tree rocking the apparel of a Hell’s Angel biker gang member is undeniably original, vivid, and absurd: this collection trademarks itself with surprisingly inventive and unforgettable lines and images that make you look at the world in new, uproarious ways.
But Welsch doesn’t settle for simple poems that amuse: his poems move deftly from comedy to moving reflection. In a poem entitled “William Watches the Telemarketer,” one expects hilarity to ensue, as the title provokes the thought of a desperate person in a mind-numbing and hopelessly archaic profession. However, the poem trumps expectations with these lines:
“I want to hear the voice she uses
when alone, when she has no idea
of me behind a wall, or on the sidewalk,
or by the river as she walks there,
same steps, same scarf, same efficiency
of hair, same expression, save
for what she repeats to herself,
words I cannot hear yet.”
This moving reflection of the telemarketer seeks to explore the gaps in lost connections; in fact, many of the poems in the collection tenderly seek a contrived or imagined intimacy with strangers. The Telemarketer is a recurring theme in the collection, and every telemarketer poem aptly probes the frustration of insincere communication, seeking to authenticate the relationship between unfamiliar people.
In fact, many poems turn out to be surprisingly philosophical. In “William Spends a Week With Dear Old Dad,” the speaker instructs:
“…You are a cheese, a chop,
a hunk of wire, a vat of pulp. You are a commodity.
You are currency your parents learned they had
in the slow way a shock can build, day on day,
as if life is shaved down to desperate, as choices
fall away until a thin path is left. You know
that path, lined with wire clips, raveling up
a stair to lonely rooms, to a box in a building
where a woman lives alone with her husband,
her days spent talking to voices as unreal as air,
where you learn to live as the body to those souls.”
Lines like these will make the reader stop and ponder the depth of their meaning, as the lines turn into a mirror that reflects the self through the use of second person.
Furthermore, Welsch enriches the craft of this collection through his adept use of lyrical moments and lines. Take the lines in “Granola Jones Lives Comfortably With Her Inaccurate Legends”:
“…Or that ever woman suffers beneath
the halo some man nailed above her head.
The legend of dirt is its honesty, the legend
of fists is men, the legend of a house
is pain hung on the walls in the tight smiles
of department store portraits.”
These are some of my favorite lines in the collection: the lovely repetition of “the legend” soothes and subdues the reader, yet the content within these lines are anything but seductive, exposing the ills of patriarchy and the disillusion of false harmony within the domestic sphere.
Welsch, who also writes fiction, exhibits a dazzling talent for narrative within his poems. I marveled at the creation of scenes in the poems, the use of realistic dialogue, and the intricacies of his details. In “Granola Jones Entertains The Unexpected Seraphim in Her Home,” the narrative talent shines:
“She said, lie with me, but it wasn’t
some plaintive yelp. This is a woman who
wears Judas Priest t-shirts, who grooves
in a chorus of yeeeaaahh anytime SRV
bends a note off the neck of his tele,
the kind of person who roars whenever
Emeril mentions booze or garlic,
someone looking for boo-yah in a come on,
and who knows an angel can read the notes
dancing in her blood…”
The weaving of specified description alongside pop cultural references make Welsch’s characters come to life in a vivid way. The above description, while humorous, is tender and detailed, building a rounded character complete with puzzling quirks.
Welsch’s collection will gratify a reader who enjoys a wide range of formal techniques and talents: it will tickle the reader with a keen sense of humor and it will move the reader with a penchant for empathy and insight: The Four Horsepersons of the Disappointing Apocalypse is a delightfully rich mixture of playfulness and profundity.
Anne Champion is the author of Reluctant Mistress (Gold Wake Press, 2013). Her poems have appeared in Verse Daily, Pank Magazine, The Comstock Review, Thrush Poetry Journal, Poetry Quarterly, Cider Press Review, and elsewhere. She was a recipient of the Academy of American Poet’s Prize, a Pushcart Prize nominee, a St. Botolph Emerging Writer’s Grant nominee, and a Squaw Valley Community of Writers Poetry Workshop participant. She holds degrees in Behavioral Psychology and Creative Writing from Western Michigan University and received her MFA in Poetry from Emerson College. She currently teaches writing and literature at Emerson College, Wheelock College, and Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences in Boston, MA. She also serves as a poetry reader for Ploughshares. Visit her on the web at http://anne-champion.com.