Sun Bear by Matthew Zapruder
Copper Canyon Press, 2014; 112 pp
Reviewed by Nathan kemp


In Sun Bear, Matthew Zapruder explores moments of potential destruction from within, though these tragedies are necessary threats for the speaker (I associate the speaker as Zapruder. This collection is much more pleasurable to read if some amount of autobiography is assumed. Additionally, the book is dedicated to ‘Sarah,’ a frequent subject in the poems.) to experience highs like love for his significant other and early morning epiphanic moments while waiting for the garbage truck to drive by.

In the first poem of the collection, “Sun Bear,” the speaker examines the complex relationship between the requirements to love and how those requirements are inherently dangerous:

we are right nothing
can replace animal love
not even complicated human love
we sometimes choose to allow
ourselves to be chosen by
despite what everyone knows
the problem is
in order to love anything
but an animal you cannot allow
yourself to believe in those things
that are if we don’t stop them
going to destroy us

Complexity of thinking, as general as it may sound, is the heartbeat of this collection. I like to think of the poems as a series of intellectual exercises that are pleasing to solve and/or consider. In “Korea,” the speaker is awake at a too-early-time and ponders the progression of his day:

when I first

turned on the light
I saw a fruit fly

orbiting nothing
above the sink […]

and angry
we chase them

around the apartment
eager to amputate

what was if one
can call it that

their dream to live
with their ten

thousand children
in a mango

Something I really admire about Zapruder and Sun Bear is that these intellectual exercises extend into sport, as baseball musings lead to intriguing associations with human relationships (from “Poem for Giants):

I remember hearing his voice
on my clock radio almost every night
the summer of 1983 as the Baltimore Orioles
moved inexorably toward their destiny
it was very hot and I was learning to drive
and sometimes there are longer silences
and for a few seconds we start thinking
about work or our relationships
and then someone shifts from one position
to another and there is a lot to say
not about the anger that lately
has been the only thing bringing people
closer together

Sun Bear is different from a lot of the poetry I’ve been reading lately. The lack of punctuation makes entering the book difficult initially, but once the adjustment is made, it is hard not to feel jealous of the elusive and rewarding quality of Zapruder’s line breaks. “To Sergio Franchi” is a poem that feels like it doesn’t belong in the collection due to its departure in form, tone, and basically everything else, but outside that, this is one my favorites so far this year.