Klatt, if I may fabricate events, won the 2010 Iowa Poetry Prize by terrorizing the rural Midwest with his army of flying squids. More truthfully, he did this with his latest collection of poems, Cloud of Ink. The poems in this collection primarily deal with suburban and rural life in the Midwest, focused by visionary imagery. The landscapes are at first revered for their vast quiet, their solitude from danger. Then, they are changed by Klatt’s talent for surreal but-kind-of-real imagery. I say that last bit because his images don’t stem from a desire to make the scenes in his poems totally surreal.
Rather prominently, these poems feature bizarre, compound similes such as “the Hindenburg docks with the Goodyear and killer whales bump like a bathtub full of watermelons.” The events in his poems make room for both “a giant squid [rising] out of a hayfield” and “a man with a fountain pen and a pitchfork in his back”
In “Andrew Wyeth, Painter, Dies at 91” Klatt has given us a poem that, in my mind, summarizes the work he does in almost every poem. The narrative, expressed as my italicized thoughts, goes something like this: a giant floating squid is taking over a farm, releasing ink onto a barn, repossessing it while a beautiful nude woman poses on a nearby hillside. The poem follows an artist as he shoos away his initial subject, the woman and the old barn, in order to document the presence of the squid. The rustic and the modern surreal aren’t just mashed together; they’re painted onto the same canvas. The squid and its ink do not frighten. At the end of the poem, deer “creep” to the edge of field as if to take their own view of the scene. In Klatt’s poems, man observes nature and nature looks back.
In a poem initiated by watching clouds, called “Recreation,” he writes, “You who watch below the liquid Minnesotans and send your glass assassins to the rusty have also opened a rest area for Winnebagos which caravan into heaven.” Through the course of that sentence, which is broken across seven short lines, Klatt moves in and out of the ordinary, the imagistic, and the surreal. Liquid Minnesotans, all by itself, might as well take a bow for creative language in this poem, but then Winnebagos, of all things that could be made sacred, steer the reader into the afterlife. I’m not sure if that poem aims to demean the activities of retired, road-tripping, Winnebago-loving Midwesterners, if it’s just tongue-in-cheek, or if he means to address the placidity, slowness, and pureness of the polite Midwest.
Commanding his armies of ultra squids and his squads of revenant Winnebagos, Klatt doesn’t cause too much trouble, but he certainly captivates.
Daniel D’Angelo, Assistant Poetry Editor