Hard to Be A Hero/ poetry by Alec Solomita/ book review by Mary Beth Hines

Anyone looking for a no-holds-barred ride via an afternoon of reading should pick up Alec Solomita’s poetry collection, “Hard to Be a Hero,” recently published by Kelsay Books. A master of free and formal verse, and fluent in highbrow, pop, and lowbrow culture, Solomita offers something for everyone in this varied collection. Appealing to casual readers as well as to connoisseurs, the poems are nearly always accessible upon a first read yet deepen considerably with subsequent viewings. 

Many poems present as autobiographical whether they are or not, in large part due to Solomita’s consistent style of sharing thoughtful, candid, and astute observations paired with wry humor. The poem “I’ve Walked Down,” brilliantly touches upon many facets of the life journey portrayed in the collection. 

“I’ve walked down this uneven brick sidewalk 
in bright December, in springtime splendor,
in evening dress, unshaven, unshorn, balding
and drunk, slick and slim, smooth and sober,
in t-shirts and cargo shorts on closing summer nights.

I walked up a similar sidewalk, swollen 
reddish brick, the heart of old Boston,
where I first smoked grass forty-eight
years ago in a tiny apartment with a skinny
blonde who assured me that one of these times
I would feel it. And she was right. I feel it now,
an old man, high as a kite (the bird, not the toy)
looking down on my own life, my only prey.”

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Kicking off the book’s odyssey, the opening poems introduce a childhood world teeming with vividly drawn, idiosyncratic siblings, parents, teachers, and friends. Early on, in the title poem “Hard to Be a Hero,” Solomita introduces his signature self-deprecatory voice which sounds throughout the collection:  

“For a small boy it’s hard to be a hero,
something you generally have to arrange
for yourself by, say, starting a fire
in the deserted lot behind your house…”

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Later, the poet turns a withering eye on society. In “Dystopia” a narrator observes activity on a bike path where the sardonically (and hilariously) described sights include:

“…Vaguely bovine young women
[who] herd daily-abandoned four-year-olds
by the dozen—same green shirts, same
chubby knees, tied together with
ribbon, bewildered, blinking in the 
sunny spaces between the big leaves…”

//////

The book’s middle section, which cycles through the seasons of the year, and of life, contains one of my favorite poems, “Snowstorm.” As an older man shovels, the snow’s “ticking” leads him to think about cocaine, then his heart, then his widowed father and how, after he lost his wife, “His mourning would never end.” Those lines foreshadow the heart-wrenching poems in the final section, the book’s emotional center. Yet even as these brim with grief, Solomita’s skill, together with his ironic eye, ensure they never descend into pathos. The last poem, “Keeping Busy,” is an exquisite rendering of loneliness amidst the ongoingness of daily life after the loss of a beloved partner.

“…I’m on a quest, a picture hanging
from one finger of each hand, intent
on my small chore, on some requited
kind of feeling when I find the right place
for the right painting, the right measure
of space and light—where it can reside
in its own brightness, its own mood…”

/////

And with that, this accomplished collection ends, residing firmly in its own brightness and its many, exquisitely rendered moods.  


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Alec Solomita is a writer and artist working in the Boston area. His fiction has appeared in The Southwest Review, The Mississippi Review, Southword Journal, and Peacock, among other publications. He was shortlisted by the Bridport Prize and Southword Journal. His poetry has appeared in Poetica, Lothlorien Poetry Journal, Litbreak, Driftwood Press, Anti-Heroin Chic, The Galway Review, The Lake, and elsewhere, including several anthologies. His photographs and drawings can be found in Fatal Flaw, Young Ravens Review, Tell-Tale Inklings, and other publications. He took the cover photo and designed the cover of his poetry chapbook, “Do Not Forsake Me,” which was published in 2017.

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Mary Beth Hines has been published in Lightwood both as a poet and book reviewer. See her other work by going to the Lightwood search link.

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