"Underwater Fistfight" Book Review
Written by Gabino Iglesias
Published by Raw Dog Screaming Press
Written by Matt Betts
2016, 98 pages, Poetry
Released on April 5th, 2016
Many times I’ve found myself reading a poetry book or anthology and thinking, “Was there a horrific brain plague in the poetry community that made all poets forget that poetry can be wild and crazy and cool and fun to read?” Thankfully, there are still poets like Matt Betts out there. Betts knows that poetry can be a lot of fun without losing that ethereal quality all great poetry possesses, and Underwater Fistfight is his way of his sharing not only that knowledge but also the fact that he’s great at having fun, creating vivid imagery, and delivering words that tickle the brain.
As with most poetry collections, there are themes and elements in Underwater Fistfight that pop up a few times and give the book a sense of cohesion. However, unlike most poetry collections, those themes and elements are truly memorable here: deathbots, monsters, humor, water, and weirdness. These are poems about a zombie’s journal and Mothra hating on Godzilla, for example. In other words, these are poems dipped in the deep end of pop culture’s pool and then pulled out only to be violently splattered on these pages.
There’s something for everyone in this book, and even those hardcore horror fans who tend to systematically avoid poetry will find something enjoyable here.
Take I Left My Heart in San Francisco. I Left Yours Somewhere in Colorado...:
...or was it Nevada? Hard to say. I travel a lot. And I’m forgetful.
I know I left your ring finger at a rest stop outside Dallas. But that’s only because it was on the news.
Your right ear is still on the washing machine downstairs. I found it in my pants pocket just as I was throwing my jeans into the wash. That would’ve been embarrassing. All my clothes would’ve turned out all EAR-colored, right?
Betts is not afraid to be funny, gory, and bizarre, and the result of his willingness to explore is a book that will surely make readers cringe and then laugh at regular intervals. However, although his ability to take poetry to unexpected places is admirable, the best thing about these poems is that they are not entirely devoid of that profundity and philosophical slant that all superb poetry possesses. Betts can make you think about a product of popular culture and then drop a philosophical hammer on your brain:
There is no reason to over-complicate things. Music or otherwise. Once they get tied up and twisted, it’s time to move on.
Underwater Fistfight is entertaining the way all slightly “improper” things are entertaining: you know there’s something slightly dirty and wrong about what you’re reading, but the payoff is so great that you just keep going. However, if you’re like me and have no qualms about fully engaging with this kind of material both as something to be consumed for its entertainment value and the kind of writing that should also be taken seriously from time to time, then the collection will give you poems that are up there with the best “serious” literature in terms of quality, message, and imagery. What WAS that thing? is the perfect example:
There are bees bussing in my head, my blood.
I can’t keep myself still from all the excitement.
Nobody else hears that?
One cricket, a thousand crickets?
I need to get them out, make them quiet.
My limbs are numb from the power,
the energy, the sheer enormity
of this cosmos raging in my heart
If you enjoy poetry, this is a different kind of book that shouldn’t be missed. If you think you don’t enjoy it, let Betts punch you in the brain underwater a few times and you’ll see how quickly your opinion changes.