Camp Winapooka: A Disappointing, and Potentially Dangerous, Book of Poetry

CW: discussion of mental health and suicide

I can’t help but be both worried for — and furious at — Scott Laudati, writer of Camp Winapooka, book of poetry published earlier this year. Through his poems, Laudati reveals himself to be a misogynist with a weird beef against suburban moms and an unfortunate habit of minoritizing himself in his pretentious, self-centered, grimdark fever dream of book. This is probably the extent of what I would have said about the content of Camp Winapooka, had it not been for the last poem, “mercy me”. 

In “mercy me”, the narrator decides to commit suicide, citing the fact that the world is awful and his life is awful, so he would be better off dead. The last lines of the poem, and, by extension, the book, are, “put me down like the sick pony / my life always was.” I have to admit, I did not see it coming. I should have. Themes of anger and loneliness permeate the book, and the poems keep getting darker, with many directly referencing and even glorifying death. Because so many of his poems are so melodramatic, somewhere in the back of my head, I was treating these poems as if they were jokes. The narrator’s choice to commit suicide was a huge tonal switch from what I had perceived the other poems to be. It is also not a good or safe portrayal of suicide, in the sense that it fails at least four out of the eight National Recommendations for Depicting Suicide in Media. It does not show that help is available. It does not depict the grieving and healing process of people who lose someone to suicide. It doesn’t portray characters who clearly had suicidal thoughts but do not go on to die by suicide, at least none that ever discuss it, and it clearly explains how the narrator wants to commit suicide. I know that these guidelines are generally used for TV and film, but I would argue that any content made for others to consume as entertainment should be careful to avoid presenting suicide as a legitimate solution to feelings of loss and sadness, which is what Scott Laudati did. Laudati wrote a convincing depiction of someone so wrapped up in themselves that they can’t see a world outside of themselves. When their world fails, they see no other alternatives than to take their own life.

There are two reasons I can think of that Scott Laudati would write this book. One, is that he is trying to make some sort of grimdark statement against the world. If he is, he should think long and hard about what he want his readers to take away from his writing. It doesn’t sound profound writing about moms lighting themselves on fire or imagining killing their family. It doesn’t sound sympathetic when he, a cis white dude, sets himself up to be a minority and complains about being isolated from “fun time america”. He seems to think that complaining about every little thing he doesn’t like about the world will make it better or change it somehow, when all it really does is make him sound like a defeatist asshole that would rather whine at people than put in the work to change anything. And most importantly, it doesn’t mean anything deep when he has his narrator ask someone the narrator cares about to kill him. In fact, that’s a terrible thing to ask of someone who presumably loves him and wants him to live. As it stands, I can’t recommend the book to anyone. It promotes some strange ideas about women and families. It is formatted in such a way that makes it look like he was trying to copy the aesthetic of a free verse poem without thinking of how the formatting would fit the meaning behind the words. And it is legitimately dangerous for people with suicidal ideation.

The second reason I can think of for him to write this book is that he actually feels this bad in everyday life. If that is true, I hope he talks to a trained professional about how he’s feeling. And for anyone who feels the same way, know that Scott Laudati is wrong. The world is not an irredeemable mess of bad things happening. I know that may sound false and that there is no reason for anyone to trust me, but I promise that there is good in the world, even if it’s hard to see sometimes. 

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health or suicidal ideation, please consider the following resources. The Reed counseling hotline is available 24/7 at 866-432-1224 and the Multnomah County crisis line is also available 24/7 at 503-988-4888. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255. If you, or someone you know, is having a medical emergency or immediate mental health issue, contact 911 and Community Safety at 503-788-6666. 

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Anonymous writer
Anonymous writer
3 years ago

This is a pitiful review. I honestly have no idea what the rest of this poem is about, let alone the entire collection and how it is organized. No other direct quotes from other poems are a means of intentionally writing off what the rest of the collection is about. It’s almost as if this obsession over a suicide allusion opens a neurotic portal within the writers’ mind that morphs into a plausibly slanderous diatribe. While suicide awareness is important on a personal and societal level, I do not see the argument based on this ‘review’ and how the author is indeed suggesting and/or advocating the act.

3 years ago

I am all for literary criticism but this review is a diatribe against the character of the poet. Your whole point of readers getting triggered by some suicidal references in the book has already been proven dismissive in court. In the 1980s, Judas Priest fans supposedly committed suicide because of lyrics on their album. Their parents sued and lost. Take responsibility for your own life. If someone acts out because of a work of art they have much deeper mental issues. Your review didn’t even mention most of the poems in the book which had nothing to do with your agenda.

Joe La
Joe La
3 years ago

Coming from someone who has has suicidal ideations their entire lives, this is a good book of poetry. Shut the fuck up. -JL

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