In the introduction to Peter Oresick’s Iconoscope (New and Selected Poems), the book’s title is said to reference “the first workable camera in early electronic television” (developed at Westinghouse). It’s an apt metaphor for the ways of seeing employed in this new University of Pittsburgh Press release. The 144-page collection includes both new work and selections from Definitions (1990) and the well-received Warhol-o-rama (2008). It’s a stirring retrospective, with narrative poems focusing on the working class and his Eastern European family bookending more playful forms used in Warhol-o-rama.
As the son and grandson of Ford City glassworkers, Oresick comes by his blue-collar roots honestly. This Pittsburgh resident, a Pitt grad and accomplished painter, has headed master’s programs and taught classes on writing and publishing locally and internationally. He’s co-edited important anthologies like Working for a Living: The Poetry of Work and The Pittsburgh Book of Contemporary American Poetry, both influences on this writer.
The new poems work best when focused on family. “My Mother’s Pirohi” is a mouth-watering account of stuffed dumplings, the finished product described like this: “In saucepan butter-coated she fries them slowly until / golden then serves with sour cream and browned onion. / At table, as far as I can recall, there was never green / salad or vegetable, only pirohi and that woman / about forty, humming, who won my heart by her love for pirohi.” The details create a scene to which many old-school Pittsburghers will relate.
Gears switch with selections from Warhol-o-rama, “Googlism for Andy Warhol” being a list-y, incantatory favorite. “Andy Warhol is no soup can /Andy Warhol is never mentioned in scripture / Andy Warhol is not enjoying a post-game beer and masculine camaraderie …” Oresick’s repetition of Warhol facts and search-engine nonsense apes both prayer and the artist’s accumulative style.
Selections from Definitions include the sprawling “An American Peace,” and often employ the gritty tone of once-industrial Western PA. In “One of Many Bars in Ford City, Pennsylvania,” Oresick writes, “It is the speed of the line today / for Kijowski, Valasek, and Dietz / gulping beer like air. / For the melancholic three stools down / it is leaky gutters, and the grim / acceptance of a fast line next shift. / It is no guarantee of a line next year.”
For decades, Oresick’s been keeping it real. His well-rounded supple poetics, showcased in Iconoscope, play out, artistic and compelling.