Matthew Walsh’s Debut Poetry Book,
These Are Not the Potatoes of My Youth, from Goose Lane, tells of a journey, between the past and the present, of Walsh’s personal life and his own observations while questioning the hetero-normative masculinity in the ’80s.
The poems begin with Walsh’s personal walks, as we see discover the world through his own experience. In the poem, “Downtown convos,” we learn that he loves walking as it helps him see the world around him. The shift from a poem titled “I love to walk” to “I let a guy once come on my eyes…” exemplifies the comical realities of his experience. His poems shift in time from past to present, shift in tone from religion to sexuality: “Once at a bathhouse I was offered four hundred dollars to perform bareback but that would have covered barely the cost of preventive medicine which acts to kill your body.” drew me in even further because these experiences brought in my own memories. Walsh’s “I” resonate as the reader “I”.
In the poem, “Individual cats,” Walsh recollects his coming out story to his mom, which he describes as “scary comical” when mother once stuffed his bed “with HIV pamphlets which scared me, but she was a nurse from the ’80s.” In the poem, Walsh masterfully paints what it’s like to be gay in the ‘80s referencing a popular show of the ‘80s: “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe”. In the poem, “Cringer,” Walsh based his “entire masculinity on He-Man Master of the Universe’s green pet tiger, Cringer.” Then, we get a sense of his estranged relationship with his father, “Dad had sort of closed the door to me, for I was not athletic, like he.” The poem, “I think my dad liked me” further explores Walsh’s relationship with his father, which reminds me of own relationship with my father. There is no unconditional love, according to Walsh, as he alludes to their relationship “he didn’t know me as the boy who chased boys with my mother’s lipstick,” further highlighting what Walsh’s father doesn’t want him to be. The love wasn’t unconditional.
Walsh’s debut poetry collection gave me goosebumps. Written masterfully, in prose form, quotations italicized, Walsh’s stories embed the past and the present, while questioning religion and the hetero-normative masculinity. These Are Not the Potatoes of My Youth , Matthew Walsh makes it clear that he does not want to be erased, he “can be this poem,” he can be “wilderness.”