Book Review

Nick Lantz, The Lightning That Strikes the Neighbor's House, University of Wisconsin Press, 2010

by Lisa Vihos

Reading the poetry of Nick Lantz is like reading the newspaper; albeit a newspaper from another dimension that reports not on reality but on surreality. His collection, The Lightning that Strikes the Neighbors’ House, winner of the 2010 Felix Pollak Prize in Poetry, reads like a periodical smuggled out of the land of disconcerting dreams.

But wait. At the beginning of the 21st century, isn’t the news that we gather from the Internet, the newspaper or the radio each day coming across as more and more unnerving and topsy-turvey with each passing report? Abnormal, the new normal. And maybe that is exactly what the poet wants us to see.

There are titles like: “Bride Believes Terrorists Kidnapped Her Missing Groom,” “The Soul Diva, Past Her Prime, Visits the Holy Land,” and “The Cryptozoologist Chaperones His Daughter’s Prom.”

There are images in Lantz’s poems that stopped me in my tracks: images both alluring and startling. In “The Werewolf Dreams of Love,” we read:

At night you are a lock on an old barn door
     and a farmer
is grinding an ax inside your skull.

Or in “The Pinch,” a poem about a father who was so thrifty, he fingered coin slots for stray change, followed his children through the house turning off the lights, and put his car in neutral to roll down the driveway:

Can you still see him cresting the hill, right hand
on the wheel, left hand braced on the open door,

both feet raging against the pavement? How
was it that you described the moment he jumped

in and slammed the door, that long minute
you waited while he coasted down to you?

Lantz has a way of setting a thing on its head, as in the clever poem, “Portmanterrorism,” which is a funny and scary comment on the current state of the world:

Would it help to say that we misunderestimated
the effects of Frankenfood and mutagenic smog,
to speculate that amid all our infornography
and anticipointment, some crisitunity slumbered
unnoticed in a roadside motel?

A “portmanteau” is a combination of two (or more) words into one new word. The poem is especially lovely because of his use of portmanteau that have been completely absorbed into the lexicon (like smog, a combination of smoke and fog) and gerrymandering (look this one up on Wikipedia, itself a portmanteau), with new words of the poet’s invention: “sexcellant celebutants.”

As in another prize-winning collection of his, We Don’t Know We Don’t Know, (also 2010) Lantz walks the line between language that clarifies and language that obfuscates. Rather than trying to translate this for you, dear reader, I suggest you get yourself a copy of The Lightning That Strikes the Neighbors’ House and see for yourself. If you are like me, you will find yourself returning to the poems multiple times, each time finding something you had not seen before.

The poems of Lisa Vihos have appeared in numerous small journals and she has one Pushcart Prize nomination. She has two chapbooks, A Brief History of Mail (Pebblebrook Press, 2011) and The Accidental Present, just out from Finishing Line Press. She is an associate editor of Stoneboat literary journal and an occasional guest blogger for The Best American Poetry. She lives in Sheboygan.