So Fast, So Close is a highly accomplished, utterly unforgettable work of literature. Soldan presents to us a gut-wrenching and beautifully written triptych that explores the highs and lows of the human experience. The poetry and prose in this collection dissects the very soul of the human being in its myriad complex forms (the human as a traveller, dreamer, wanderer, parent, child, lover, friend, victim, survivor) with the keen eye and expert precision of a surgeon as he ‘[watches] lives, landscapes, / shaping and shrinking like moments’.
Soldan takes us with him on his journey through the American states, through childhood and adolescence to fatherhood, through the darkness at rock bottom and up to sunshine and fresh air – and though the ride is rough and Soldan’s world is, at times, a very scary place to be, the reader can’t help but to trust him entirely, his personality on the page is so genuine, his truth so raw, his writing so intelligent.
The vivid imagery in the first section of the book paints the landscape of America in a way similar to Kerouac’s On The Road, but sans bullshit. I felt like I was in the truck with Soldan, could see and feel the dirt under my fingernails, smelt the smoke in my hair, felt the dewy grass beneath my bare feet. I can only think to describe his accounts of travelling the country as being melancholy in motion – we witness beat-down directionless souls physically moving towards, well, towards someplace ‘different’ ‘other’ ‘new’ ‘better’ and we hope that, whatever it is they’re running away from or running toward, these good souls find whatever it is they’re looking for.
The second part of the collection, including the titular poem ‘So Fast, So Close’ is an incredibly moving, brutal account of the author’s youth. The poems in which Soldan describes his mother are devastating – his portraits are so vivid, for example in the poem ‘Three Photographs of the Mother’, I cried more than once reading this section. His wry recollections of past substance misuse and growing up in Ohio are witty and street-smart. Soldan proudly captures an oft ignored cross-section of society (people who are disregarded by the mainstream but, in my opinion, are usually the most interesting characters) by bringing them to life in all of their gritty glory. His depictions of the stark reality of the opioid crisis are heartbreaking but though it may be difficult to read about, Soldan’s insight is invaluable and entirely necessary, and he does exceptionally well in giving a voice to the voiceless. My favourite poem is from this section and I know it will haunt me forever.
The third part of the book is a stunning meditation on parenthood. Part autobiography, part philosophical inquiry, Soldan captures the beauty and anxiety of what it means to be a child looking up to an adult who then finds themselves an adult responsible for a child. These poems are deeply vulnerable which, if you weren’t totally enamoured by Soldan’s storytelling already, cements the connection made between author and reader, and makes you feel every word as if it were written on your heart. And ultimately, these poems are drenched in the purest kind of love. Again, I cried throughout this section, the love in his words is so visceral as to become your own. Dare I say Soldan’s son, to whom the collection is dedicated, is incredibly lucky to have such a thoughtful, intelligent, adoring, strong, absolute fighter of a father – Soldan should be incredibly proud of this book, as I’m sure his son will be too.
The main feeling I take away from So Fast, So Close is one of hope – the unique kind of hope that exists in spite of hopelessness. It takes great courage and strength of character to still have hope when life presents you a million reasons to feel hopeless or want to give up entirely, and even greater bravery to write your heart and soul onto paper and share it with the world.
Poem that stayed with me, that I couldn’t stop thinking about for days:
Where You Might Have Been When They Took Their Last Breaths
Other personal favourite poems:
Border Crossing / Street Kid’s Guide to Coming Up Aces in Columbus, Ohio / Down the Way / Face to Face / How Does a Man Prepare? / What She Kept, She Carried