Night of the Republic

Night of the Republic - Alan Shapiro I think the first thing that comes to mind when I think of Alan Shapiro's "Night of the Republic" is that he has a fondness for place and what it conveys in the absences of unfilled spaces. I think the theme of this particular idea is fascinating - being able to have an eye view of an empty place at night and being able to see what's missing from it with the lack of activity/passage of time. Yet, for the idea that's conveyed with this, I don't know if the collection as a whole suggests this as well as it could've through the entirety of the work. The collection definitely had its moments, however, and I think it won me over enough to think well of it as a whole. "Night of the Republic" is only the second collection of poems I've read from Shapiro, and like the previous collection I've read from him, he has a precise way of weaving language while drawing attention to details, particularly here when it comes to setting. "Night of the Republic" is split into four sections, with the first and third entitled with the namesake of the collection (focus kept to the places and spaces themselves), while the second ("Galaxy Formation") and the fourth ("At the Corner of Coolidge and Clarence") are from more intimate, direct viewpoints. I think each section ties into the theme of the work as far as conveying absence is concerned, but I think the connection/history is far best detailed as a whole in the final section of the work.Before I get to that, I'll go through what I liked from the get go. "Gas Station Restroom" might seem like an odd choice to start the collection with, particularly in displaying the toilet residue and scrawls on the stalls ("hence, /over the insides/of the lockless stalls/the cave-like/scribblings and glyphs/declaring unto all/who come to it/in time: 'heaven/is here at hand/and dark, and hell/is odorless; hell/is bright and clean.'"), but it gives a good look into what the first section entails - a display of empty spaces conveying a sort of absence. A residual one if you will. Shapiro doesn't really delve into it in the first and third sections as much as he shows it and tries to convey the idle nature of these spaces. The poems I thought did the best with this ideal included "Supermarket, "Park Bench," "Hotel Lobby," "Shoe Store," and perhaps my personal favorites "Gym" and "Barbershop". But for those noted poems, there were many that just fell flat, like the one about the strip club and the indoor pool which didn't really strike me with any particular emotional resonance. It's more that each of these kinds of poems are either a hit or miss.In the second and final sections of the collection, there's a bit more intimacy with a singular viewpoint taking in these particular spaces. There are times when it's hilarious, like in "Edenic Similie" where the narrator preceives a man in the bathroom singing along to "hunkahunka/Burnin Love/head back (I imagined)/eyes closed waving/in perfect rhythm/to his singing/a tenor sax/of piss - stopped singing/stopped pissing/soon as he heard me...". The images are vivid and give a sense of character. There are times, like in the final section of the collection, where it's an ode to a famous figure like Marylin Monroe ("Cigarette Smoke") or JFK. The portrayal in the latter section is more of an absence of things that are and aren't there, put in juxtaposition, such as in "Sickbed", "Coffee Cup", "Beloved" and "Flowerpot" among quite a few others. I somewhat wished that the rest of the collection had the degree of intimacy in the first three sections that the last one had, having a portrayal of the place with an underlying theme of its history and what's left within it. In a way though, it may be that Shapiro was building up these pieces and then seeking to combine them into the cohesiveness that is the final section of this collection. If so, I think that was a brilliant plan, but just a little shaky in its execution in spurts.Overall, "Night of the Republic" was a collection that I certainly enjoyed from Shapiro. Probably not my favorite of his works, but there were enough gems in the poems and moments that struck me to leave an impression, much like the resonance in the places, times, and emotions he chooses to visit.Overall score: 3.5/5Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.