Matthew Shindell, In Another Castle

Publisher: Three Candles Press
2008, 92 pages, Paperback, $13.95

with a voice that refreshingly, daringly, and urgently puts ‘everything on the table,’ Matthew Shindell’s In Another Castle unfolds through a subtle, systematic attack on the expectations and conventions of contemporary American poetry. The voice, or many voices, collected in these poems offer fragments of a world where the mind is capable of processing the ordinary, reality, imagination, and delusion in a compatible ratio as they function, from a distance, toward resolution. Shindell creates a space where events and circumstances ask readers to suspend their beliefs in the natural world and to invite the plausibility that the fractions of life do not necessarily piece together to form a polished mass.  Shindell’s attempt to validate the world he creates comes from voices, or ‘characters,’ as the book’s play-style layout indicates. These characters speak from the center of the created world coupled with a voice that speaks from an outside observer’s point of view.

Along with a successful voice, In Another Castle is marked with a series of images and lyrical narrations that call into question the subjectivity of the ‘I’ through absurdity. Readers are forced to confront a moment, or snapshot, and once again concede to a construction that infringes on their notions of possibility. However, Shindell does not provoke the reader into a state of fantasy; he promotes the exploration of meaning in a world where objects, language, and occasion disrupt logic. Shindell is careful not to leave out a familiar scent of the reader’s world, though not afraid to give it new connotation, and assesses the relationship between perspective and reality. An example of this assessment is found in the concluding lines of “Parable of the Boy Inside the Deer”; after the boy crawls inside the deer, and the father electrocutes it back to life, Shindell writes:

He began to shake, saying, “You know, your mother
would love this.  We should bring you home like this
and show you to her,” “Yes,” said the boy
“she’ll think I’m a real deer.  I can jump out
and yell, “Surprise!” like a woman in the cake!”

Another notable feature of the book is its layout. The content is separated by drama and fiction section titles: Prologue, act i, an interlude, act ii, an appendix.  Though often hard to discern, there is continuity to the arrangement of poems. The voice and images of the Prologue reappear in the first poem of act ii; in the latter poem, the voice controls the images, in contrast to being controlled by them, and exemplifies a shift in self-awareness that the book’s theme carries throughout its entirety. The shift is a result of the poem in the interlude section, “Two Jokes About Bears.”  In this poem, Shindell makes his ultimate challenge to reality, perspective, modes of thinking, circumstance, and reaction.  It is only after his deconstruction and obliteration of human logic that the self-aware individual can dwell uninterrupted in creation.

The risk Shindell takes using the guise of comedy, impossibility, and absurdity is that readers might overlook the overall meditative theme of the book. Poems such as “At Night” and “Birthday” draw away from the meditative theme because they seem to be a forced construction for the world, not a construction by the world. However, despite its few pitfalls, In Another Castle stands out as a remarkable vision of creation through the mind at work, the mind forced to react, the aftermath of circumstance, and the rejuvenation of poetic conventions.

-Jason Coates