Dothead by Amit Majmudar
Knopf, 2016; 120 pp
Reviewed by Kimberly Gibson

 

The poems in Amit Majmudar’s latest collection range from poignant to political to playful—the key word being playful. Though Majmudar treads some sensitive and serious ground on the topics of sex, race, and war in Dothead, he can’t seem to resist the puns which his word-associations lend him. In the poem “Are You Hungry?,” for example, we get punnily provocative lines like:

I could simmer khmer in a pol pot and still have room for kim jong-il with rooster sauce.

And in “Horse Apocalypse,” we’re treated to these eye roll-inducing double entendres:

One memory, common
To all breeds, spurs night mares

Though the examples above are cheesy, almost everything else in Dothead is extraordinarily clever. It’s refreshing to read a poet who thoroughly enjoys twisting and commanding language, and Majmudar is a commander—especially of forms. In “Steep Ascension,” a memorial poem for John Hollander, he staggers tercets into steps, carefully slant-rhyming the ending words in creative variations.

A last tercet reworked like a last will,
            he’d told me he was writing, feeling well,
                        but I found his body turned to face the wall,

In fact, this is Majmudar’s particular expertise—generating and maintaining endlessly impressive variations on a pattern. My two favorite poems in this collection, “Rune Poem” and “Abecedarian,” also work off of this principle. Though they operate according to the simple forms of alphabet lists, the poems achieve immense acoustic and thematic depth. “Abecedarian,” a sophisticated poem about blow jobs in the Garden of Eden, is, alone, worth the price of admission.

Despite the levity in Dothead, the poems in this collection are anything but lightweights, and Majmudar knows what he’s doing. If you’re looking for poems that will entertain, engage, and enlighten you, get your own copy—I’m still rereading mine.