Matt Betts has been making a name for himself as a novelist lately, but that isn’t how I got to know him. I was first introduced to Matt as a poet, via his superb collection See No Evil, Say No Evil. A guy who wrote poems about cool stuff, like Godzilla and Monsters and Why You Should Totally Leave The Beach. A guy who reveled in the silly and absurd, but could find glimpses of the sublime and occasionally heartbreaking between the lines. Underwater Fistfight is a return to form that I have been waiting for, lo these many intervening years.
His introduction, “Educational Supplemental #36,” makes it clear that this will not be your average poetry collection. It’s a quick treatise on the roots of poetry in piracy that, on the surface, is pure silly joy; yet, there’s sense to it hiding beneath the waves. Amidst the gags, he’s making it abundantly clear that he knows how to use language and how to play around with the words, making them go all slippery in his grasp while keeping the whole thing a right hoot.
Immediately after, he takes some undead nips at the Bard himself with “12th Night of the Living Dead.” Then, he turns on you. “Almost See the Bottom” feels like another ode to the big G at first, until it twists in deeper and becomes something far more personal. Therein lies the balancing act he pulls off so deftly here. Using pop culture quips to feel out the edges and folds of your armor before taking a few quick jabs at your soft innards. As much as you can’t help but giggle over “The Great Zombie Pyramid Scheme” and all those Deathbots, I defy you to try and tell me that “What in Neptune’s Name?” doesn’t give you chills.
I’ve always told people that Matt Betts is a poet for people who hate poetry, but I’ll be damned if Underwater Fistfight doesn’t prove he stands as a heck of a reminder of what got me to love poetry in the first place.