Mac Kenney,
My Pictures, My Words
(Outskirts Press, 2011)

A few thoughts on reading Mac Kenney's My Pictures, My Words:

1. There have to be standards. With the rise of print-on-demand publishing and the accompanying rise of POD publishers who make their money selling books to their authors, we've entered an "anything goes" period. POD publishers do not guarantee the quality of what they issue; they do not do the traditional publisher's job of guarding the gates. It is therefore up to the author to make sure that what he presents actually offers something of value to an audience.

For reasons discussed further on in this review, My Pictures, My Words fails the "something of value" test.

2. There is a difference between photographs and snapshots. Published photographs are designed to make you see the world a little differently, to get you to perceive the major abstractions behind the object being viewed: beauty, hate, fear, the cosmos, something like that. The pictures do not simply say, "I visited this place and saw this bird." They offer a glimpse of the depth beneath the surface.

Kenney's pictures are all on the surface. Most don't get beyond the level of cliche: a butterfly on a leaf, a waterfall, waves crashing on some rocks. We've seen it all before, and Kenney fails to make us see it through fresh eyes.

3. Poetry is a tough art. A poem is worked, carefully crafted; it is language being shaped, bent and twisted into a vision. It speaks on several levels at once and aims to bring the reader to a new and deeper level of insight. Sure, Ginsburg and Kerouac said, "First thought, best thought" but they did not say, "First words, best words."

Here is a sample of Kenney's poetry:

The anguish of a parent
whose child so young and strong
volunteered to defend our country
and it ended all so wrong.

Ezra Pound, who pretty much wrote the rulebook for contemporary poetry, said, "Make it new." He did not say, "Make it cliche."

4. Books need to be designed to make them readable.

If you are using color photography, for example, then you ought to place your text on the photographs in a font and color that will not blend into the picture, lest your words be rendered almost unreadable.

Readers shouldn't have to work to read such lines as:

The flowers bloom and the birds sing
it's a wonderful world and it's mine
I still think you are beautiful
please smile for me one more time

book review by
Michael Scott Cain

28 July 2012

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