Boxed in to Today: A review of Apartmentalized by Dan Flore II

Reviewed by Peter Mladinic

by Dan Flore III
March 2024, Paperback, 45 pages, ISBN-13: 978-1915819789

Set in a large apartment complex, somewhere in Pennsylvania, United States, this sequence of poems thrives on a duel conflict: the speaker versus society, as represented by management, and the speaker versus himself, a renter.  In their satirical tone they are reminiscent of the poems of Charles Bukowski, and in their point of view, with an unnamed first person narrator, they are reminiscent of Tillie Olsen’s classic story “I Stand Here Ironing,” which, like Flore’s poems, is set in an apartment.  To begin, heighten, and resolve conflicts threaded through the sequence Flore skillfully uses irony, hyperbole, and metaphor.

Paradoxically, the poet is at home and not at home, as alienated from himself as he is from his apartment and the complex of apartments in these poems. As a sequence they have a structure of irony.  The poet’s self-conflict is expressed in his descriptions of neighbors and people who work at the complex.  His other conflict is with an unseen adversary, his landlord, and those who work on behalf of the landlord, the complex’s management. In “Aprils rent” he says “I just got an email (and they never send them), a contradiction.  He and management, at odds, mutually antagonize each other.  In “When they come, they’ll come with key fobs” he gets a glimpse of management: “Shiny, white Hondas and $90 haircuts wondering why there was a mattress in front of the dumpster and which resident could be the bed bug eviction they’re looking for.”

This passage suggests economic disparity.  He and other residents are the poor and the landlord and management are the rich. There is also a polarity within himself. He often sits out on his deck, or inside in a corner of his apartment, boxed in, but also he seems to be everywhere, omnipresent in the complex.  “Accidental Phone Pic At Shady Meadow Brooke Apts.” presents a catalogue of people that includes “Mel and Mike, the maintenance men;” and “Ashish, the little Indian boy with the Pokémon backpack,” who “has pulled the fire alarm four times since October.”  While the poet seems alienated from these people, his descriptions suggest an intimate knowledge of them. In Fore III’s Introduction he says, “thin walls- I know all the neighbors favorite TV shows.

Flore’s pain is his readers’ pleasure. His use of hyperbole brings out the humor in his situations in “this complex complex filled with endless miles of carpeting.”  “The Unholy Creature In E-4” has “chained himself to the other side of my ceiling and is yelling down to me, asking if he can borrow some sugar. In “The Grounds” management had the trees trimmed, not for aesthetic improvement of grounds but to keep residents from suing if fallen branches damaged their parked cars.

now the trees appear decapitated
and the branches that do remain
look like the spines of the evicted
who broke their backs trying to make rent

Of himself, the poet says “I like doing nothing/ in fact, I’m obsessed with it.”

The poet is his apartment, and his landlord is the apartment complex. In the Introduction the poet says, “the landlord owns me.  I’m just renting myself from him.”

The poet’s plight is that of others. “I’m stuck in a shoebox of a unit piled ontop of and squished between other shoeboxes. “Winds Through The Moonlight” is a metaphor for creation, the artistic process. In this poem Fore III evokes his muse.  “I had something to say.”

Toss a few dandelions down the alley of my youth like a dark hippy killing her tie dye with the black of my years gone by.  This old woman was by the mailbox near my apartment, pathetic with her walker, the toil of life on her brow.  Not a damn thing anybody could do about it.  Only death that strange wind thinks is there had a drink of mercy for her.

How powerful that is in its empathy and awareness of mortality!  In another poem he hears his next-door neighbor crying, and concludes, “I can’t do anything about it/ but say it’s ok/ even though she can’t  hear me/ and it’s not.

The irony is that he can and does do something about it, in a voice that speaks not only for himself but for all those around him—the residents, the staff, the management.  His pain is his readers’ pleasure.  As with all satire there’s a light, entertaining surface, with an underlying seriousness that conveys the paradox I’m alone and not alone.  I am discontented, restless, irked, worried and perplexed in a world of indifference, but its challenges are not insurmountable, when we realize we have our lives and presence of one another, the poet suggests. This realization is clear in the last line in the book, “we had a life here.”  This is a beautifully written book that deserves to be read.  It is like no other.

About the reviewer: Peter Mladinic’s latest poetry books are Voices from the Past, published October 2023 and The Homesick Mortician, in January 2024. Another, titled Housesitting, is forthcoming from the Anxiety Press. An animal rights advocate, he lives in Hobbs, New Mexico, USA.