Book Review: Tom Sawyer by Joseph Grantham
Reviewed by Liam Anthony
Joseph Grantham’s Tom Sawyer is a laugh-out-loud poetry collection featuring heart, tenderness, and an incredible mustache.
Fittingly, Joseph Grantham opens his poetry collection with a quote from Mark Twain: “The story could go no further without becoming the history of a man.” And I’ve got to say—it seems like the perfect epigraph for it. Grantham’s Tom Sawyer oscillates between many subjects: from the alienation of dead-end jobs to dating and relationships to families and everyday life, but through it all, the humor of growing up and coming of age always seems to be at the forefront.
I particularly enjoyed Grantham’s “Work Poem[s].” Despite each “Work Poem” having a different meaning, the drive behind each one seems to reflect the poet’s disinterest toward his job as a bookseller; in one of the poems, he even compares his lack of desire to go to work to the curiosity he has in attending a funeral. In another (on page 65, if you’re looking), I fell in love with the poem’s sound and rhythm: “I fought fires/ for a few years/ before I became/ an actor/ and when I was/ an actor/ I was typecast/ as a firefighter/ and I fought/ fake fires.” Grantham’s accessible language always seems to flow seamlessly into the poem’s purpose, allowing us to join the speaker on a journey of maturation and, in this particular poem’s case, an eventual heroism when he kills a gunman with a can of soup.
Grantham is a generous poet, providing us with countless questions, idiosyncratic observations, and a comedic, poignant landscape that I absolutely loved spending time in.
Most of Grantham’s poems are truncated and short, with their language peeled back to allow an accessibility to his work. “Slow Poem,” which is a leftfield love letter to New York, allows the reader to feel as though they are spending a day by Grantham’s side, listening to him compare a stranger’s spit to a diamond and showing us that life in New York can be filled with both beauty and grit simultaneously.
Perhaps Grantham’s finest quality is his ability to make us laugh. In yet another poem called, “Work Poem,” he lets us know that “my confidence/ is directly proportional/ to how strong/ my jaw line is.” But just as much as he is entertaining us with his humor, he is also sharing his own insecurities, gentleness, and could even be commenting on the whole of male insecurities. There is a certain charm to the humble way he entertains us, letting us know that while he’s got these problems, he’s also got his own ways of dealing with them: “And I’m in the self-help section/ but only because I work here.”
Joseph Grantham is an inviting and accessible poet. Tom Sawyer is sure to captivate, inspire, and move you.
So do yourself a favor and grab this poetry collection to use whenever you need funny and introspective company. It is a well-collated anthology, where you’ll somehow find social commentaries beside the poetic equivalence of social media memes, and you’ll be all the better for it.
Joseph Grantham has questions. We don’t have answers. But at least we’ve got his poems to help us keep going.