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19th February 2015

Review: Hawaiian Shirts in the Electric Chair, by Scott Laudati

Intensely readable and relatable, Hawaiian Shirts in the Electric Chair reaches out to the disengaged and apathetic—with a trace of hope

In Hawaiian shirts in the Electric Chair Scott Laudati embodies the malaise of his generation. Desperately searching for purpose in a world engulfed by fear and disengagement, Laudati’s narrator—a character one can only assume to be entirely autobiographical—stumbles between fleeting one night stands (I Liked Her So I Never Should Have Talked To Her Again), doomed love affairs (Stony Hill) and suburban anxiety (Can We Live Like This?). The archetypal dissatisfied post-adolescent so prevalent in 20th century literature, his narrator bears resemblances to Salinger’s Holden Caulfield and Plath’s Esther Greenwood, all similarly dealing with lethargy and neurosis in the urban sprawl of New York.

Laudati focuses primarily on imagery and expression, and he does not rely on a great deal of literary technique—all usage of rhyme, metre, and rhythm is subtle and sparse. This does not negate the work in anyway but only accentuates the conversational and simplistic style exercised. Although lacking the mysticism and spirituality of other poetic greats such as Ginsberg, Laudati does seem to possess a beat-esque quality that can be interpreted as both hopeless and hopeful at the same time. In We Need The Bomb, he speaks of the threat of nuclear warfare, highlighting the cultural fear it entails but also adding a subversive eroticism to it:
“for the andromedans,
and the reptilians,
from the moon-
it’ll probably
look like
the earth
with helpless orgasm”

Laudati’s choice of language remains simple throughout—and it is exactly this simplicity that gives this work its universality. Rather than relying on linguistic ambiguity and technical jargon, the use of colloquial language gives the work a much more concentrated resonance. His lowercasing of ‘I’ which is present throughout attains a Cummings-esque effect, perhaps in homage.

Laudati channels a plethora of emotions as he navigates through the suburban jungle of New York. In A Garden East Of Eden, his words are tinged with retrospect and longing:
“if i could do it all over again
there’s not much i would do the same
i would say i love you a lot more
to a lot less people
i would only find brick walls on black and white streets
to kiss against”

There is also an appeal to more carnal desires; lust, greed, desire. In The Things Men Say On Their Way To Work we are greeted by a seemingly middle aged man, who recounts tales of illicit encounters with numerous women, expressing his longing for his youth.

Intensely readable and relatable, Hawaiian Shirts… manages to reach out to anyone who has felt disengaged and apathetic, and his work is tinged with hope. Despite being set in a given geographical area, the poems have a universal resonance not exclusive to New York. Beautifully executed, this work is indicative of a promising and prolific career for Scott Laudati.

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