What Kind of Man
Reviewer: Shawn Pavey
Tony Gloeggler’s What Kind of Man reads like a verse memoir as each poem bleeds into the next and builds upon what has come before. The poems deal with challenging themes – romantic and familial love, illness, treatment, recovery, aging, mortality, and loss – but in a way that makes them feel unthreatening, as if, as a reader, you’re sitting with an old friend, catching up on a couple of rough years.
It’s easy to call these poems confessional, but what Gloeggler achieves with them exceeds simple categorization. His language is precise, yet conversational. His images are concrete, yet somehow universal to the human experience. When relaying the indignity and pain of dialysis or navigating the memories that arise when he considers his native New York, Gloeggler shows us both how things are how he wishes they were. In the collection’s first poem, “This Kind of Room,” he begins:
It’s that kind of soft, not too hot, summer day
when all I want to do is be young enough
to run fast break full courts until night falls.
I don’t want to subway into the city, stop
in book stores, thumb through bins of used
vinyl for hours, stand in line at Anjelica
for one of those movies where I don’t care
if the main character lives or dies. I don’t
want to be back in love with Erica, driving
to some quaint upstate town, windows
down, in complete control of the tape deck
and we’re both singing along as loud
and off key as we please: Springsteen,
Beach Boys, old live 1969 Poco. Don’t want
to linger over brunch, wander into tiny shops
filled with scented candles and antiques,
not even if we stop at a roadside park,
find a deserted shady spot, spread a blanket
and end up making out like we first met.
I want to be the first and only guy at the schoolyard …
Gloeggler is successful at writing poems that could, so easily, slip into sentimentality, but just never do. This opening poem continues to introduce family, past romances, a former lover’s autistic son (who makes appearances throughout this collection), a friend’s kidney transplant, the speaker’s own kidney issues, and sets the stage for the rest of the book. At its heart, the poem is about remembering the thrill of schoolyard pick-up basketball games, a friend who will tip the shot in if it doesn’t sink quite right, the slap sound of a dribble, and the feel of a strong lay-up all while letting the reader know, subtly, where this book is heading.
We learn from Gloeggler’s narratives that he works with adults in a group home for people with mental disabilities. He is still active in the life of Jesse, the autistic son of a former girlfriend from decades past, who found a place in his heart as a boy and whom he continues to visit even after Jesse is an adult and independent. Through these poems, we see a man who cares about being a good man. He tells us, several times, how fortunate he feels working a job that he loves. In the poem “Down By an Old Mill Where a Big Part of Your Heart Lives,” Gloeggler states:
You are neither going home or out
for a Friday night of beer, 8 ball,
and a bar band. No, it’s a weekend
spent visiting Jesse. If you see
your long ago girl friend, you’ll both
act cordial. When you try, you can still
recall things you loved about her,
although you know she would never
think of trying. But you and Jesse
have a gift. You can both stop time.
He’s autistic and you love the kid,
who’s now a man …
There is music in Gloeggler’s work, too – references to The Beach Boys and Springsteen, Al Green and Martha and the Vandellas (he writes about music as well as any poet writing today), but also his poems themselves include such subtly musical lines. In “Memory,” he begins:
I am starting to forget things. Especially names.
The slick speedy short stop who hit clean-up
for our championship softball team? The first
girl I kissed in spin the bottle, tall and blonde
with freckles on the bridge of her nose bending
to meet my lips? The doctor who performed
my open heart surgery? The new executive
director who signs my checks? In the middle
of a conversation about something essential:
life, death, black and white, sports or music
there’s this word or phrase simmering
somewhere inside my mind that summarizes,
encapsulates, wins any argument and damn
it never finds my tongue as the conversation
rolls on without me.
Note his use of assonance and consonance. The first line with those Rs and Ts, the soft As and Os, brings us to the slippery Ss and staccato Ts and Ps. His rhythm is always a syncopated mixture of spondees, trochees, anapests, and dactyls. This feels like jazz blank verse all the way through the book. These poems should be heard, spoken aloud, as well as read on the page.
And New York City looms large in this work. Having lived his entire life there, Gloeggler offers poems of place as much as poems based on internal expression. New York is a character in his narrative, both the New York of his childhood and the New York of contemporary gentrification. In a city where space is sold at a premium, Gloeggler gives us a very real sense of what it is like to live there.
Tony Gloeggler penned a masterful collection of poems and NYQ Books created a lovely package that feels good in the hand. Poet and photographer Alexis Rhone Fancher’s stunning black and white cover photo enhances the work within. Through the intimacy of his work, the honesty and the heart of it, the music he loves to write about and the musicality of the language he wields, we get a long look at what kind of man Tony Gloeggler the poet is. He writes in the final and titular poem:
… This morning,
I’m the kind of man who lets
a male nurse strip my clothes
to a pile on the floor, wash
my front and back …
The kind of man who stares
at the wall and whispers
thank you into his ear.
This is the kind of man we need, and these are the kinds of poems that readers deserve.