Book Review: Rabbit Punch! by Greg Santos
A Review of Greg Santos's Rabbit Punch!
Greg Santos opens his second poetry collection Rabbit Punch! with a quote by his friend and mentor, the poet Paul Violi, setting the stage for this match in the ring: “We were made to reach for things. / For imagination extends life. / For our reach must exceed our grasp.”
Santos’ poetry is, as the title implies, punchy, but also mysterious with quick fists that can leave us laughing or silent in complex thought. He even serves us up darkness but with a side of pop culture icons, celebrities, and historical figures: featuring poems like “Paris Hilton on Tara Reid,” where Paris Hilton watches an intoxicated Tara Reid recite T.S. Eliot; the lyrical “Zombie,” which has the undead dancing to The Cranberries’ famous song; and the clever “Presidential Address” that reflects volumes about our current period. In a time when turmoil and uncertainty are the norm, we could use a little levity every now and then, and similar to what he does with his wonderfully inventive and comical “Hulk Smash!” (which you can read here), Santos manages to reel us in with this collection, which strings together humor, satire, and pleasurable goofiness as in his piece “Gotham Knight:”
I am the fog that chokes the air
Santos’ insistent, pulsing rhyming couplets (that take a detour in the latter part of the poem as underscored by the poem’s declarative “I break the rules”) create a rich musicality; and, it would not be surprising for someone to read this with Kevin Conroy’s voice (the Caped Crusader’s most famous voice actor) in their head. In this list, Santos draws on the “Because I’m Batman” meme that has been beaten to death like a dusty old punching bag; however, Santos revitalizes it. He also satirizes Batman’s ego by having him do something typically only his villains do: espousing a monologue that is ultimately a shooting match with himself as he generates pretentious claims and jibes about other superheroes; cracking wise jokes about the ‘big three’ action movie stars of the 90s; yet, still giving a dedicatory nod to Mike Tyson in one couplet. Eventually, the Crusader flies too high by comparing himself to the Death Star, and whomever is listening puts a “punchy” end to it. Santos’ use of “I am” statements in the first half provide the poem a level of playful ridiculousness, revealing to readers that Batman has become a cliché, and is overdue for a beatdown.
In contrast to the playfulness of “Gotham Knight,” there is Santos’ poem “Hooray,” which makes us face a grim reality, smacking us with a right hook:
Yes, the world
A throwback to the 2012 doomsday scare, this poem is reminiscent of the Latin phrase memento mori, remember you will die. “Yes, the world / will not have ended in 2012,” but that does not mean we are ever completely safe. Santos reminds us of our mortality and that there are some things we will never be able to see or do. Eventually the bell is going to ring on each of us, and because of this impending doom, Santos’ biting lines show that everything has taken on more of a commercial meaning—the sense of profiting from our fear of dying by being “more expensive."
And, then we shift again, to the hilariously witty “Paris Hilton on Tara Reid:”
“She always seemed like she was having a good time,
Who would have thought that Santos would bring someone like Tara Reid into a poetry book? (Then again, he also has guest appearances by Brock Lesnar and John McCain). While it is funny to imagine drunken celebrities reciting poetry classics, Santos seems to have also snuck in an uppercut that talks about dealing with depression, providing the platform for the poem’s darker meaning:
“So guess what she does? She starts reciting “The
Santos’ references to T.S. Eliot and John Keats are a spot-on contrast to each other as both speak about the idea of hopelessness; however, it is Keats’ poem recited by Paris Hilton that provides a rope of life, while Tara’s recitation simply ends with a whimper in the cold darkness. But, in true Santos’ fashion, the final couplet rings the bell for the next round with Paris merely shaking her head as Tara stumbles by:
“This is the way the world ends. This is the way the
Overall, Greg Santos’ work in Rabbit Punch! is a solid mashup of campy wit and a tethering darkness where, one minute, you can be having lunch with Marco Polo and then skipping church to get smashed with Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot at Hooters, only to wake up next to Tara Reid the following morning, contemplating the theory of the universe. Just remember to wear the boxing gloves…
Salvador Martinez is an undergraduate studying Political Science and English (Creative Writing Track) at Lewis University and is a poetry editor for Jet Fuel Review. He enjoys reading poetry, fantasy fiction, science fiction, classical works, and political theory while listening to music on his phonograph, playing one of his guitars, or simply writing prose or poetry.