Book Review: Tricks of Light, Thaddeus Rutkowski

Book Review: Tricks of Light, Thaddeus Rutkowski


Book Review: Tricks of Light, Thaddeus Rutkowski

Poetry: Tricks of Light, Thaddeus Rutkowski

There are some problems
that cannot be solved
in any amount of time,
no matter how one tries to fix them.

The above quote is from the poem No Fix, part of the collection of poems that make up the forthcoming book Tricks of Light (publication scheduled for April 6, 2020). Thaddeus Rutkowski is a graduate of Cornell and Johns Hopkins. Originally from central Pennsylvania, he now calls New York City home.

Rutkowski’s work reminds me of a definition I once heard of poetry. Poetry is observation. Poets are observers. They see, they hear, they taste, they smell. Then, they share. Rutkowski is a keen observer–though sometimes his observations are affected by myopia. His poems share his bemusement at observing a snail on a bench, only to realize upon closer examination that it was actually a wad of chewing gum. He heard seals barking from the ocean, later discovering it was the squeak of a chain holding a child’s swing. A bird became an upended sign. Yet, rather than be embarrassed by these misattributions, Rutkowski embraces them and learns from them. Yes, the gum was the perfect size and shape to be a snail. It was also the perfect size and shape to be a piece of gum.

And therein lies the observation: just because we see things in a certain way does not make that right or wrong. Relishing those small adventures in discovery allows us to appreciate the world in new and different ways. A mother selling childhood treasures could be resented–or she could be understood as finding hidden value when she needed it. A daughter who values her personal space asking for a hug creates a special moment. Those moments can be easily missed, but they should be cherished and in Rutkowski’s poems that happens.

The poem I quoted above has nothing to do with the current pandemic. Yet it spoke to me in a powerful way because of the situation we are all facing. Coronavirus threatens all of us. But some problems are beyond solution. That is not to say we will be living in isolation forever. Perhaps the disease will run its course, or a vaccine will be developed, or something. But right now it is a problem that can’t be solved. And that is something else Rutkowski’s poems embrace. Certain problems must be accepted, not solved. Perhaps that seems like a defeatist approach, or perhaps it is more Zen than most of us can handle. But that is also a place of beginning, of renewal. Accepting the world as it is does not mean we can’t change things. It shows us what we can change, what we have power to control, what we hold and what we must let go. I cannot fix a pandemic (though I certainly hope some doctor or scientist can!). Worrying about that does not help. I can, however, wash my hands. I can stay at home. I can avoid crowds. Letting go of problems I can’t solve frees me to focus on the ones I can fix.

Tricks of Light is a beautiful collection, full of keen observations, wry and self-deprecating humor, and twists that make poem after poem a surprise and delight. When I was first approached by the publisher to review this collection, I told her my birthday was coming up and I could think of no better present than a book by Thaddeus Rutkowski. Whenever your birthday is, or the birthday of a poetry lover you know, this collection is a treat that should be shared. Don’t wait for a birthday: buy it, savor it, and cherish it today.


See more on Thaddeus Rutkowski:

Book Review: Haywire, Thaddeus Rutkowski

Book Review: Violent Outbursts, Thaddeus Rutkowski

Book Review: Border Crossings, Thaddeus Rutkowski

Booklist: Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month


Book Review: Tricks of Light, Thaddeus Rutkowski

Book Review: Tricks of Light, Thaddeus Rutkowski

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