By: Vincent J. Tomeo
Published By: Atmosphere Press
Publication Date: April 26, 2023
Reviewed by: Rebecca Jane Johnson
Review Date: April 18, 2023
For poetry enthusiasts who want to enjoy a good laugh, Vincent Tomeo’s chapbook, The Usefulness of Hippopotamus, delivers accessible, quirky, joviality, seasoned with a bit of repulsive charm.
Tomeo invites the reader to walk with him “into a poem,” as friends into a bar or nightclub, to observe, and to laugh together. He confides in readers that he hopes the humor in these poems will brighten their day. Having this collection in hand feels like having a wacky friend who points out humor where one may never have seen anything funny before. The poet skillfully finds ways to surprise the reader, especially the twist at the end of “My Streaking Days Are Over.”
It is difficult to pull off universal humor in any genre, let alone poetry; yet, Tomeo’s voice is humble enough so that it can soften the blow of any joke that may come off as corny or offensive. His “Let’s Eat Grandma” or “Thirty Seniors at the Movie” have a way of making the joke just as much about the poet’s perceptions as about the characters in the poems. All can laugh together.
The poems paint pictures in the mind; for instance, while sunbathing in the muddy water of the river, a hippopotamus becomes a “dining table / for birds and other living things.” Or, a reader can picture Christmas in Morocco, where goats climb trees to chew the Argan trees’ fruit. The images that come to mind do inspire a satisfying chortle throughout the collection, not to mention the odd visions that feature a mouse, and in another poem, cockroaches.
This is a relatable collection that features a Nevada wedding, a suggestive play in a confessional, and other familiar, everyday settings. Plus, the world finally gets an answer to that question everyone has been asking, “is there sex after death?”
Finally, these poems trigger a range of emotions from bewilderment to sympathy. The poem "I Keep Breathing" tells of a woman making out with the tailpipe of a Nissan; she's suicidal? Even if we're not sure what to make of that, it's funny then sad - an emotional ride, for sure. However, it was hard to laugh and then also hard not to laugh at the dark tragedies here. For example, a son visits his dying father in the hospital; oops, he ends up mindlessly unplugging the life support system when he searches and finds an outlet in which he can charge his phone.
Quill says: There is humor in today’s hardships, and Vincent Tomeo’s The Usefulness of Hippopotamus is determined to expose it, if simply to brighten someone’s day.
For more information on The Usefulness of Hippopotamus: A Humorous Chapbook for Trying Times, please visit the author's website at: vincentjtomeo.com