John Koblas was a renaissance man. He was a doo-wop musician, an historian, an author, a consultant for the History Channel and PBS, a script-writer, and also a poet. In other words, he was an interesting man. He died in 2013, a mere two years after Letters from the Moon was published.
Death is an important part of the collection. In several poems, Koblas looks back fondly on drunken nights with his best friends back when they had a pop band in the late 1950s-early 1960s. “For Wally Baardson (1942-2008)”, “When We Were Kings”, and “My Pal” in particular tie together fond memories of youth with the reality of death. You can feel Koblas’ hurt at losing his old running buddies; reading that particular trio of poems made me sit and think on my own relationships.
Koblas suffered from Parkinson’s disease, which he details in “Deep Brain Stimulation”, “The Suicide Hour”, “Stem Cell”, and I would guess “Eternity”. Being young and relatively healthy, these personal notes about living in pain and frustration at one’s body were eye-opening, especially in light of the joy found in poems of Koblas’ younger years.
My favorite poem was “If I Called My Own Number”, another meditation on mortality and lost loved ones. Koblas wonders aloud what would happen if he called the number of his childhood home, razed forty years ago. Would his mother answer, or his father, or even a younger version of himself? He knows it’s impossible to call, but what if he dialed? Something about that gave me chills and made me hug my mom.
While I enjoyed the poems I mentioned, those are most of the poems that I enjoyed. There are another 80 to 90 that did not ring as true or profound. There are several poems about lost love, most of them involving flowers or plastic (to mean fake or bad) that almost felt like they were written by another person. For me, the hit to miss ratio was unfavorable so I wouldn’t recommend purchasing this book. Still, there are some gems worth reading. Mr. Koblas was an interesting man.