chapbook review

Drought Resistant Strain, 124 p.

by Mather Schneider

from Interior Noise Press

reviewed by Ross Vassilev

The first thing you should know about Mather Schneider is that he’s not some university professor who goes “slumming” in search of material to write about; as a matter of fact, he’s a cabbie in Tucson, Arizona. Much of Mather Schneider’s writing focuses on the fact that life is hard, and that people make it all the harder by their cruelty and indifference towards one another. Schneider’s poems both confront this fact:

she thinks the proper way to run things
is to come in twice a day
and rip the staff new assholes.
The restaurant stays afloat
because of the reputation of her dead husband
and the hard work of Mexican immigrants
who she treats like farm animals

and also seek to escape it through contemplation of moments of beauty:

a million Saguaro cacti in salute
tall and sentinel over the crimson mesa
like an army on Mars

Schneider writes about the working-class world and people in which he lives: the kind-hearted ones who are too trusting and always finish last; the old ones who’ve worked hard all their lives and have nothing to show for it; the insane; and of course, the criminal-minded who prey on all the rest and add, as Roger Waters put it, “another brick in the wall.” It ain’t pretty, but it’s real.

As it should be. After all, if you’re writing serious poetry, there’s no “nice” way to write about the homeless:

Ask the old man
folded over
a cardboard sign
on the final asphalt
at Douglas and Valencia

or what some people have to do just to survive:

She was 86’d from The Mint
for hawking blow jobs
and now she comes into The Deadwood every day
to trawl our happy hour


Later in the night
we hear the Mexicans
taking things out of the dumpsters
to fix and resell

No, life is no picnic filled with only sunshine and butterflies. It is what it is and of course Sartre declared that “Hell is other people.” But if you know all that then maybe you can tiptoe through the minefield of life and have something worthwhile to show for it at the end. And this book by Mather Schneider will give you a piece of that knowledge.

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5 Responses to chapbook review

  1. Paul says:

    Good review — just ordered the book.

  2. Jefferson Carter says:

    “An army on Mars” describes a moment of beauty? “Hawking blowjobs” is the real talk of real people? C’mon, Ross, Mather is no Bukowski, and even Buk wasn’t very good most of the time. The “working-class” poet schtick has become the stalest of cliches. The good poet transmutes his subject matter, whatever it is, into power and vision. The mediocre poet, like Mather, exploits the innate sentimentality of his subject matter (the kind-hearted losers, the insane, the criminals, the homeless, the old) to make himself look sensitive and authentic. The words just sit there on the page like those of a hastily-written high school essay chopped into prose, which is no surprise, given Mather’s glaring lack of education.

    • That’s very true, Jeff. My view of poetry has changed dramatically over the last few years. Maybe becoming a Buddhist has something to do with it. Buddhism is such an intellectually-driven faith that practicing it seems to smarten people up. I see now that even Buk was mediocre most of the time and most of what he wrote was drivel, and hack poets like Mather sometimes get lucky by mere chance, to quote a Spanish poet of centuries past. Hopefully, opening my eyes to what is and is not great poetry will be the least of what Buddhism does for me in the long run. 🙂

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