By Linda J. Wilson
“Poetry, for me, and I hope for the reader, is a way of communicating that transcends every other form of communication, a way of expressing that which it would not be possible to express in any other form,” Jason Visconti declares on the back cover of his self-published The Death of Equal Handshakes , a collection of poems “that I feel represents me as I write today.” His assessment of the theme and content of the 62 poems in this book is correct: the book is a record of his life and thoughts expressed in varying poetic forms and imagery unique to his life experience.
The Death of Equal Handshakes opens with “The Day My Mother Died,” a poem deceptively gentle in imagery underlain with harsh reality. “I was with my best friend/being brought up by the clouds/of a summer afternoon./In one hand I held a stick bat taped with orange stripes,/A slim stick meant for toying with on sunny days/one that painted all my childhood.” The idyll ends and Visconti resents it: “My mother stole me away from my schoolyard,/she laid the bats and balls /alongside the fence/for others to pick up and play/and now in my adult years/where is my lost joy?”
Visconti attended a poetry workshop where he explored a number of poetic forms. He approaches sonnet form in “To Walk a Mile in My Father’s Shoes”; otherwise, much of his work is blank or free verse with occasional rhymes that surprise and delight the reader. He also has a good command of such literary devices as alliteration (“blanched with the white washed walls forever”: “To the Gravedigger”) and ellipsis (“The dancer stretches back/in his morning Crucifix.”: “The Evil Overture”).
His imagery is intriguing. “Lyric of the Night” evokes New York City after dark with minimal description that encourages the reader to fill in the blanks with imagination and memory, although the steppingstone typography of the last line is something of a distraction.
Some of Visconti’s poems present conundrums that the reader may find obscure. In “I Cannot See Anywhere in the Distance” we are told, “The sky is pure white, the color of snow./A cloud drifts past a streak of gauze./The sun bows east to west, drops deep/in the ground, shadows cross the eyes/You blink once reliving the night./The world is fog mist but never dangerous.” Like many of the other poems in The Death of Equal Handshakes , this example of Visconti’s work gives the impression that the poet is somewhere down the road, waiting for us to catch up with his meaning without his having provided enough guideposts along the way.
Visconti does provide those guideposts in some of his other poems. The three-part “How Do You Know If You Are a Really Bad Person?” asks a question that has confronted everyone at one time or another, then provides an answer—which the reader can take either of two ways, depending on how he or she has answered the question Visconti posed. This is perhaps one of poetry’s more useful functions, to hold up a mirror and compel us to look at ourselves.
The Death of Equal Handshakes is largely autobiographical. From the start, Visconti pulls no punches. “The Day My Mother Died” also touches on his being diagnosed with schizophrenia and his battles with the illness. He details his struggles with interpersonal relationships in “Suicide Stroll” and the memories that have made up his being in “Images of Ours” and “Journeys”. “Empire Over the Heart” holds out the promise of calmness and peace, although the last verse of “Lights Out on Broadway”--“The nightlight/shines its light more on your cheeks?/I know the enemy…/she rolls over and we duel.”--emphasizes that much of life is conflict—healthful conflict, but conflict nonetheless.
Like some self-published books, The Death of Equal Handshakes could do with some proofreading—“alter” for “altar” in “Loss” is a distraction and occasional omissions of punctuation disrupt the flow of some other poems, although this may have been deliberate on Visconti’s part.
Visconti’s poetry has been published on the Internet, where it seems to have a following. How The Death of Equal Handshakes will fare in the print world remains to be seen. We wish the author success.