Chicken Soup for Betty Boop: A Book of Funky Poems
by Tom Clements
Hit 'Em Up Publishing

"Some poetry is hard to fathom
Other poetry just serves
To scratch an itch
This poetry right here
Has universal meaning
To the extent this universe
Is just another niche"

Poetry is a quirky beast. Sometimes it roars, waking us from our comfortable beds of complacency and causing us to tremble at the terrors it recalls. Sometimes it whimpers, seeking empathy as it recounts old heartaches and poignant losses. At its worst it slumbers, resting limply on the page as an example of the poet's self-indulgence. But regardless of theme or style, it always reveals if only briefly the soul of its creator. This collection of "funky poems" shows the reader about Clements, and despite the intentional oddity of much of his verse, he understands and appreciates the power of the English language.

This is not that surprising, of course, in that the author has a background in teaching college grammar and composition and as a day job currently runs his own tutoring service that specializes in SAT essay preparation. Clement employs his skill set as an expert technician, carefully crafting poems like literary timepieces where precision takes precedence over superfluousness. That does not mean his poems lack life or beauty, nor does it result in his verse conforming to rigid rules. But it does mean that what he offers his readers is devoid of both the fluff and the obfuscation that mark less accomplished poetry. For example, "The Last Kamikaze Pilot," possibly the finest piece in his collection, clearly and expertly conveys both a moment in time and the soul of its subject without cluttering up the content with unnecessary imagery or confusing verbiage. Yet it also shows that its author is not afraid to spurn accepted grammar and usage norms when needed for either fun or effect. The poem "Quartet" with its table-like structure exhibits Clements' freedom to alter form in his work, while poems like "Trophlaxis," "Neoteny," and "Pax Requiem" proclaim the poet's expertise in using jargon in a manner that manages to both capitalize on the beauty of the way a word sounds as well as adequately convey its meaning.

However, for the most part the poet prefers not to throw out convention, keeping the bulk of his selections in a casual and unpretentious format, occasionally separating his lines into stanzas and employing rhyme only as he sees fit for a specific piece, which is typical for much of modern poetry. Additionally, he adheres to the common practice among some poets of dividing his collection into sections devoted to broad categories, specifically Science, Religion and Philosophy, and Women.

One thing that does set his book apart from so many others, though, is its visual appeal. Many volumes of poetry include photographs or the occasional line drawing, but Clements has raised the bar much higher by working with accomplished San Francisco artist Namita Kapoor. Her eccentric collages add just the right amount of humor and bizarreness to make one pick up the book in the first place and look for more, while Clements' well-polished poetry has enough pull to keep one reading and turning the pages between them. The result is an attractive blend of words and art that practically screams for attention.

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