By: Chloë Williams, Columnist
“Camp Winapooka” is the third poetry collection from writer Scott Laudati. Though it is most basically a collection of free verse poems, the stories revealed throughout the poetry reveals the vast world of a man searching for a home. It is a cleverly disguised short story collection. I had the opportunity to interview Laudati and really dig deep into the motivations and themes of “Camp Winapooka.”
While on this written journey for home, Laudati discusses toxic patriotism, the juxtaposing safety and oppression in modern suburbia, and what it means to grow up in a generation that has never experienced war. Furthermore, it is a reflection on the degradation of modern America from its former position as a “city upon a hill” into a now-violent landscape.
“Camp Winapooka” is divided into locational sections based on where Laudati wrote each poem. Though he takes us from New York to LA, Cuba, Prague, and Texas, the reader gets a sense that home begins in New Jersey. Here, we experience late nights with friends, homemade cakes from Mom, and lessons about masculinity from Dad.
Laudati describes growing up in the New Jersey suburbs as safe, but not enough to sustain him into adulthood. He must escape suburbia to finally realize a new, truer version of the self. And so the adventure begins.
Laudati travels to New York — the bright, shining city just over the river from New Jersey. From afar, it seems like a magical world of music and opportunity. However, the city swiftly loses its luster after Laudati witnesses police brutality towards friends, and realizes New York’s apathy. Laudati develops an abusive relationship with New York, craving to entangle himself in the fabric of its society, but at the same time conscious of the fact that the city does not care about him and never will. Naturally, he turns west.
Here we see sunshine, swimsuits, and endless summer, but also a nagging sense of loss. In his interview, Laudati spoke of a fascination with the western American desert and its association with the Gold Rush, discovery, and the American dream. After standing in the sands, he claims, “The soul of the universe is buried in the American desert, but it’s evil.” The desert is bloody, and built atop the bodies of Native Americans now shrouded over with sandy blankets. Tragedy and inspiration exist as one, but the west is still far from home. Laudati thought that the west would fill an internal hole.
“I got there and it’s the exact same, but the weather’s nice,” said Laudati.
The reader watches Laudati experience life in Texas, Prague, and Cuba. Through every ecstatically different destination, more is at stake for Laudati to lose upon the next move. Something is always left behind, but the chase continues on and on to replace it.
“Home is what makes you feel as content as you felt when you were nine years old,” Laudati says.
The idea of “home,” however, is destabilized through the eyes of characters such as a mother who sets herself on fire to escape the confines of parenthood. The idea of America as a “home” is destroyed with the images of drugged-out founding fathers upholding a modern perversion of patriotism.
Laudati is inspired by a desire to recreate the energy of punk rock with the storytelling aspects of American folk music, and pulls poetic influence from New York poets like Jim Carroll. Laudati breathes new life into poetry by weaving together a series of vivid, interconnected stories featuring specific characters. Laudati places a focus on details in this work to paint a more vivid picture.
“Everything is dirty and gross and I feel like you should feel that when [experiencing] someone’s art,” he asserts.
Certainly, the monotony of the suburban lifestyle and the grime coating America’s political landscape is palpable throughout “Camp Winapooka.” When reading this collection, one not only enters the headspace of a man desperately seeking the one, probably non-existent, place that will make him whole. The reader sees the American lifestyle as it struggles to turn away from the negativity of an older generation, and embrace a newer, more empathetic generation as it attempts to break down family roles, ideas of masculinity, protections of money-holders, and the romanticism of war.
Scott Laudati can be found on Instagram @scottlaudati, on YouTube as Scott Laudati, and his three poetry collections are available for purchase on Amazon.