Matt Forney
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Stuck Up by John Dolan

stuck-upAnother one of John Dolan’s long-forgotten poetry collections, Stuck Up is distinguished from People with Real Lives Don’t Need Landscapes by having a semblance of a plot. Each of its poems are presented as part of the story of “a resentful, defiant, absurd figure sulking in Canada’s North Woods,” presumably Dolan himself. The book’s very title refers to Dolan’s neighbors’ estimation of why he won’t talk to them, oblivious to his antisocial personality and crippling fear of human interaction. He’s left with only his dog Borstal, a gigantic mutt with a predilection for defecating at the worst possible moments:

Fed Borstal, he’s getting very thin, the neighbours said, ‘He’s so thin…’, leaving the predicate ‘…especially considering he belongs to somebody who looks like you’ unsaid. Proletarian tact. Five minutes after I fed him he shat about a gallon of brown liquid all over the deck. Splash marks a foot long, gastrointestinal rocket propulsion, amazing he didn’t go flying off over the lake like a popped balloon. It went right through, you could see the cloud of horrible liquid shit spreading over the clear water, right by the pipe which draws my tea and dishwashing water into the house. Great. Thin or not, no more food for him today. Took him walking many times after that—no more accidents like that or the enraged neighbours, all of whom drink the water right out of the lake, will burn my house to the waterline. God, this cloud of Borstal shit could’ve given the neighbour kids typhus or something if they still drink unboiled lakewater in that house.

Much like Landscapes, Stuck Up concerns Dolan’s usual oeuvre: the conflict between his grandiose dreams of battle and glory and the pathetic reality of his existence. Poems such as “How I Came to Be Born Into Late Twentieth-Century California” and “Poetics of Cowardice” poke fun at his upbringing, while others such as “Tannenberg, Stalingrad, Pleasant Hill” and “Waterloo” explore his suicidal Catholic impulses.

It’s relatively typical stuff if you’ve read any of Dolan’s other books.

Stuck Upwhile still worth reading, is considerably more flawed than Landscapes due to Dolan’s comparative inexperience (this was one of his first poetry collections). Despite the presence of a loose story, many of the poems in this collection seem to meander too much and didn’t grip me like the ones in Landscapes. In particular, Dolan’s ability to write a poem longer than two pages is still weak, and too much of the verse in Stuck Up goes on for entirely too long.

John Dolan is one of those writers who is so talented that even his crummier writing is worth checking out. If you’re a serious Dolanophile, Stuck Up is a worthy addition to your collection; if you haven’t read any of his other books, you should buy those first.

Click here to buy Stuck Up.

Read Next: People with Real Lives Don’t Need Landscapes by John Dolan