Review: Camp Winapooka

Written by Michael Pallaris

Scott Laudati’s Camp Winapooka is a poetry collection published by Bone Machine Inc., where each instalment is written in the form of a narrative or free verse. This collection revolves around everyday, yet confronting, topics including life and death, love and heartbreak, historical and current issues, and hope and despair.

Some of the poems seem to be autobiographical in nature, including my personal favourite, ‘A Poem for Satine: A Good Boxer’, which is about the tragic loss of Laudati’s beloved dog, Satine. This poem moved me with its emotional and honest language, and I think it really resonates with those who have lost a loved one.

This collection mostly implements the first-person perspective, but there are some poems that are either historical, fictional, or about other people who are presented using the third-person perspective, such as in ‘Green-Eyed Ashkenazi Girl.’

The subject matter of Laudati’s poetry is quite confronting at times, and there seems to be a consistently sombre tone throughout the entire collection of poetry. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it is executed quite well. However, I personally struggled to read it in one sitting due to my emotions overwhelming me with the events and mood of the poetry collection. For instance, I was shocked and taken aback while reading ‘#Occupy’, as it recounts events involving police brutality at a student protest. In my opinion, this was—ironically—the second-best poem in this book due to Laudati’s attention to detail and the incorporation of raw, brutal, and emotional language. It is safe to say that he clearly has a knack for writing long-form poetry.  

This collection contains forty-four poems, which are divided into seven sections or stanzas, each set within a different time-period and location. Despite the size of the collection, the short length of the majority of the poems and the engaging content keeps you hooked for the entirety of the book. During my first reading, I almost missed my train-stop while reading ‘Black Friday’, which is the seventh poem in the collection. To describe Camp Winapooka as engrossing would be an understatement.

This book of poetry seems to move at a fast pace due to the short lines and the sparse use of commas and full stops, to the point where the only breather the reader gets is at the end of each poem or section. This style of writing appeals to me as I enjoy taking my time when reading. The narrative moves at a breakneck speed, which reminded me of J.J. Abrams’s Star Wars – Episode VII: The Force Awakens (2015). As a result of this stylistic choice, the narrative within each poem, and the collection as a whole flows effortlessly from one poem and event to another.

The fact that the poetry is autobiographical in nature and that the majority of poems are inter-connected also reminded me of Dorothy Porter’s The Monkey’s Mask (1994), a collection of poems that combine to form an engaging narrative in the style of a murder mystery thriller. To write a collection of poems is difficult, but to connect all of them to create a life story—even in the loosest sense—is ambitious and incredible to read if an author can pull it off. It’s safe to say that Laudati has definitely succeeded in accomplishing the challenging task of creating a piece where each poem is a chapter in a coherent, linear narrative. Camp Winapooka is a well-written, thought-provoking, and powerful story, which readers can learn a lot from. I furthered my understanding of life in America with Laudati’s attention to detail as well as the use of American slang and idioms. I have also started to put things into perspective regarding life experiences as a result of reading this book.  

All forty-four poems fit together like a jigsaw puzzle, and as a result, none of them feel unnecessary—each instalment is definitely required to enable the narrative to progress.

Speaking of progress, the ending, ‘Mercy Me’, came as a bit of a shock to me, though in hindsight, it had been foreshadowed quite nicely in the previous poems.

Verdict:

The material was admittedly difficult to digest at times as a result of its confronting nature and the powerful, emotional language and tone—though these aspects do not detract from the quality of the work. The narrative of each poem and the collection as a whole is presented in an engaging manner, while the recurring theme of love and loss adds further depth to this piece and never feels out of place. Without this aspect, the collection wouldn’t have been as appealing, intriguing, or memorable as it was. The appearance of the poetry is aesthetically pleasing due to the use of formatting and punctuation that enhances the flow of the piece, resulting in a poetry collection that is easy to read, despite some of the subject matter being confronting.  

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Camp Winapooka and would definitely recommend it to anyone who loves poetry and engaging storytelling in general!

I have rated this poetry collection:

Five out of Five Stanzas.

Scott Laudati also has a YouTube channel, where some of his poems from Camp Winapooka are read aloud in the form of music videos. I would recommend checking it out, as it presents his work in a fascinating manner, making for a unique and amazing experience. Laudati’s poetry is arguably best presented using the audio-visual medium.

In my opinion, the video titled ‘The Santa Fe Trail’ is the best representation of his work.

Feel free to check it out using this link.


Michael’s work appears in the Forward, Tension, and Skeptic editions of WORDLY Magazine.

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