Review by Emily H. Axelrod
Kelsay Books, released April 25, 2022, 81 pages.
In his first full-length book of poetry, Hard To Be a Hero, Alec Solomita offers the reader a dazzingly disparate series of poems, many of which describe a boy’s life up to and including, a childhood in an odd but warm family, a tumultuous adolescence, and an adulthood seen through the eyes of a keen, often ironic observer. In these apparently autobiographical verses, the author makes the reader feel the awakening of young love, acceptance, rejection, and insurmountable loss. With an endearingly pointed skepticism, his heart opens onto the page, revealing both toughness and vulnerability as he turns quotidian events into unforgettable moments and leads the reader through surprising twists to unexpected destinations.
Solomita captures a child’s world with poignance and humor, revealing its myriad contradictions and mysteries— backyard games, a parent’s bewildering behavior, and the beginnings of sexual awakening, all vividly and wittily rendered.
In “All Star,” the poet combines the bravado of young boys with the care the elder feels for his more timid brother as they contemplate jumping from the garage roof: “…I was older/ and full to the brim, taking the leap/ with something like savoir faire/ while Sal sat sometimes for hours/ as the sun ambled across the summer sky,/ his arms ’round his bare knees, marshaling/ some deeply embedded mystery before letting go /…” In just a few words, the reader is in the scene, tinged with danger, bursting with male energy, and full of affection.
In “Debby,” the erotic is palpable as two boys watch the approach of a young girl. “I can remember still/the slope of the green dell, /the blade of grass between Dave’s teeth /while we watched Debby and her shifting hips /stroll toward us…” How effortlessly this poem brings the reader back in time to the first intimations of sex.
As the book progresses, the subjects widen, glimmering with sarcasm and humor. The stinging yet somehow affectionate portrait in “Morality Tale” is a prime example: “Virtue crawls through his beard like /lice, an apt accessory to the branches /and banana peels in his composting biz. /My man! Reducing methane emissions /is just one sign of his beneficence /….” The shrewd simile turns into a tale that maintains its sense of absurdity until its surprising, satisfying conclusion.
There are also sections in Hard To Be a Hero that, like “Morality Tale,” comment sharply and engagingly on subjects ranging from opium dens to the pandemic to literary criticism —with characters ranging from Rabelais to Scarlett Johannson. And Solomita’s style is compelling and various. “He can both sing in meter and converse in free verse,” as one of his distinguished readers put it.
Hard to be a Hero shines especially bright in lyrics of love and loss that the poet conveys with tangible longing. These poems combine Solomita’s signature ability to convey an extraordinary depth of feeling through ordinary events – his wit living side by side with profound grief. In “Self-Help,” “about halfway through/ your dying, you came up/ with theories of your own./ It was around the time/ you found an old purse: /recipes, receipts, lint, / and observed / ‘This is when I was a person’.” After the blunt honesty of the opening line, we are led to the tragically outlandish (and comic) description of the patient’s suggested remedies for her illness.
Again and again, Solomita leads the reader in unexpected directions. “Lie back in my arms./ Let your wasted bones/ melt into me like butter/ into batter…”; so begins an erotic love poem, the poet reaching out to absorb the pain and even the decay of his beloved in language that improbably combines a vivid picture of deterioration with an act of passionate love.
Solomita conveys intense human emotions in a language that is always fresh, surprising, and somehow perfectly appropriate. Hard To Be a Hero is the work of an imaginative, deft, deep-feeling poet, and a gift to all lovers of the written word.
[Link to buy the book: https://kelsaybooks.com/products/hard-to-be-a-hero
Amazon as well]
Emily H. Axelrod is the author of two books of poetry: Passerby (Antrim House, 2015), and North Window (Finishing Line Press, 2020). Her work is informed both by her career in urban planning and her childhood in Northern California. She lives and works in Cambridge, Massachusetts.