Joseph Edwin Haeger reviews The Neon Hollywood Cowboy by Matt Mitchell. (Big Lucks)
When I was in college, there was a professor that said “nonfiction” and “poetry” were more closely aligned with each other than any of the other genres or disciplines. At the time, I thought it was nonsense. To me, “nonfiction” and “fiction” are both prose, and if all writing is the search for a deeper truth, wouldn’t the two prose-driven forms be the closest?
In my misguided youth, form governed the overall message. This isn’t a line of thinking I’ve kept; instead, I believe all genres can (and should) overlap. And the fact that I tried to fit such things into a box was silly.
That professor’s viewpoint popped back into my head as I read The Neon Hollywood Cowboy, and it clicked. This book by Matt Mitchell is so personal, so honest, and so engaging that I understand what the professor meant. The reason that poetry and nonfiction are the closest is because the authors of each have to put themselves forward as the example of truth, baring every part of themselves for everyone to see.
I love poetry for how it is like god swallowing the sun spilling across a lake michigan sky,
filling my lungs with water.
because I am water, so much water.
Matt Mitchell understands the power of poetry and he continually proves this throughout this collection.
Mitchell, a self-proclaimed intersex hunk, takes on subjects that are either often omitted or outright avoided. By paralleling silver screen giants and other celebrities with the idea of perception, he’s able to chisel out everything that is generally unsaid. This book takes our face in its hands and forces us to look at that which had previously been left “unsaid”—all the thoughts surrounding masculinity, gender, and identity.
This book doesn’t allow us to settle into our usual assumptions about what we can only see with our eyes. Instead, it’s making us reconsider the world as a whole. This book sets up the expectations and then topples them over, again and again, until we begin taking these words at face value. It’s like these poems filter out our preconceived notions so that we’re faced with only the naked message that Mitchell is intent on advancing.
My mother gave me hands sharp enough
to sculpt lighthouses out of anything
The cover for The Neon Hollywood Cowboy is gorgeous. I understand how we’re taught not to judge a book by its cover, but I’m going to let you in on a secret: you can definitely judge a book by its cover. In the same way Mitchell’s poetry does, the physical form of The Neon Hollywood Cowboy demands our attention. It’s designed to resemble an LP sleeve and sits big in our hands, with this amazing retro styling where creases are worn into it as if it houses a record that is decades old. Sure, this is a brand-new book, but it already feels like it’s earned its place on my shelf after years of use.
Is it cliché, and a little lazy, to simply call this book “powerful,” even when it’s true? Yeah, probably. So, instead, I’ll say: “The Neon Hollywood Cowboy by Matt Mitchell will shatter you.” It grabs hold of you and demands to be heard and understood. If you’re not giving this book all of your attention at the onset, you will be fully engaged shortly after. Mitchell articulates his point of view so well, bringing us to a better understanding of his experience and his outlook. I adore the poetry he deploys to get us there.
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