Horsethief Books. Hardcover. 132 pages.

Reviewed by Joshua Jones

Michael Bazzett’s second collection of poems, Our Lands Are Not So Different, pokes fun at thought in order to raise the stakes for the way we think about the world. It can be hard to laugh given the current state of public discourse—harder still to laugh about epistemology, which was never very funny to begin with—but laughter reminds us that the ridiculous is actually ridiculous no matter how powerful or pervasive. Bazzett’s poems, therefore, do the necessary and paradoxical work of making us laugh at our terrors and shudder at our joys.Reading through the poems of this collection, it’s hard not to make a connection between Bazzett’s interrogation of the way we know and the “post-truth” world we’ve stumbled into. For instance, in “Nine Possible Observations to Consider,” Bazzett writes that “It is a truth universally acknowledged that absolutes are not to be trusted. Fortunately, plans are underway to etch this into the cornerstones of public buildings.” But while this poem and so many others in the book are politically invested, it would be hasty to lump them in with a great deal of contemporary political poetry criticizing the current administration. Instead, Bazzett’s book is better read as a prescient cure to a sickness we’ve only recently seen the real symptoms of rather than as a direct commentary on current events.

Forgoing an identifiable narrative arc, Our Lands Are Not So Different falls into three sections that narrow from the more abstract or universal to the particular and personal. The first section revels in the play of thought without much consideration of that thought’s lived experience. In an early poem, “The Problem of Measurement,” Bazzett imagines a society which has taken Zeno’s paradox to heart and made a religion of “cut[ting] everything in half.” The speaker assumes the cool distance of a documentary narrator rather than an indwelled experience of the characters in the poem. In the second section, the speaker generally moves into the poems, living the thought experiments instead of describing them at a distance—he sits across from the menacing “Doppelgängster” and actually chats with him. The final section takes a turn into the personal and biographical, focusing on characters who are presented as real people confronting situations both actual and impossible.