Green Hills Literary Lantern






Give Over the Heckler and Everyone Gets Hurt

by Jason Tandon

Black Lawrence Press, 2009

Paperback, $14.00

79 pages

ISBN: 978-1-934703-59-5






Jason Tandon’s poems are little slices of real life; in this book they typically span less than a page, sometimes taking up no more than half a page. They are filled with short, tight lines that pack a lot of power in free verse.  All of his poems possess a musical language that fills the reader’s mouth with the sound of the subject. 


A title like Give Over the Heckler and Everyone Gets Hurt sets the stage for humor and a clever handle on the English language.  Lines like “their deaths/ split-sounds./ Pedestrian murders,” from the first poem, “South San Ysidro,” raise expectations to include the melancholy of the mundane.  We can expect to see more close-ups of everyday tragedies like the rate of snail death on a rainy day.  At another time and place, however, we will find that murder is merely “...the traffic going in that direction/ on Route 3, its accomplice.”  Jason Tandon gives us the bleak, funny, and depressingly, hilariously boring aspects of life and writes in the inappropriate spaces where they overlap: a Buddha statue cohabiting with a garden gnome and lawn jockey, meditating to chainsaw background music; an anniversary celebration planned with the help of whatever was lying around or on sale; the every-morning occurrences at a Kwik-Stop.


Some of his poems give heart-breaking glimpses of places and people.  These quick, haunting images stick in readers' minds: his sister's run-in with a semi, his friend's custom of smoking on the roof while listening to contemporary pop music, the grandfather who won't remove his hat for the Pledge of Allegiance.  Some of these snapshot profiles sit with an unsettled feeling on a bed of absurdity: the friend who is “a scarecrow with cancer for a brain,” provides dark humor made blacker by the poem's previous images of an adult superstore and bathroom scrawlings about Jesus. 


Other poems provide the juxtapositions that occur in the everyday with Tandon's image-twisting clarity.  Momentous, critical events are surrounded by the plain and inconsequential.  A gun fight encircled by speed traps and karaoke bars; a deeply religious day kick-started with doughnuts.  All of the poems are filled with playful language: a Chrysler cracking into a tree, fake fingernails described as emerald talons, a squnging tongue (Tandon’s coinage).


A great example of a humorous Tandon poem is “Cleaning up after the Dog” on page 46.  Split up into small sections, it reads like a checklist of how to properly dispose of your dog's mess when out on a walk.  This unpleasant humdrum activity takes on a much more significant feel in this poem; the owner takes on a role parallel to that of a detective collecting evidence at a crime scene.  Tandon's serious language, like, “Getaway must be clean,” and “The bomb diffused/ the world a little safer, a little cleaner,” and mention of important figures like a cop with a bristling crew cut and appreciative onlookers, helps set the stage.  The musicality sets the cruise at high speeds with lines like, “Pull plastic bag from pocket,” and “Grab, clamp, reverse bag, twist, knot, cinch.”


To read one of Tandon’s people poems, like “Joint Operation” on page 59, is to capture lives from one small angle at one point in time, and it is impossible not to imagine all of the other angles of their existence outside of the poem.  In “Joint Operation,” Tandon describes two people he sees on an airplane.  He encounters a woman who we learn hasn’t flown in seventeen years.  Just like any typical airplane ride, he learns snatches of intimate details about her life; she has a son who is wanted for $30,000 in child support.  The second person he simply observes, the man in the cowboy hat and tinted glasses who holds an unlit cigarette between his lips.  This image gives us even more room to imagine in because we have no information about him beyond his unique appearance, but we know that he caught Tandon’s eye, and the way this poet presents people in simple, stark ways keeps us reading.  Tandon speaks for all of the other passangers, wishing that “…he would just light up.”


Reading Tandon's poetry is like pushing through the twelve hours of an all-night Relay for Life.  At 9:00 PM the white paper bags decorated to honor fighters and victims of cancer are lit up from the inside by candles and make you cry.  At 6:00 AM, tired and drained, you laugh to see those special luminaries lining the track crumpled up and thrown away.


 Emi Griess