James Browning Kepple & Kim Gorannson,
Couplet (Pretend Genius, 2007)

Couplet is an ingenious object: two poets' respective collections printed back to back. Each poem is faced, not with a blank page, but with the other poet's upside-down poem. Hey, it saves paper.

This being Pretend Genius Press, the style is -- for want of a better word -- experimental. The influence of those dead white men, the Beats, is obvious. A ruddy disregard for traditional forms, syntax and sometimes even spelling makes this poetry challenging but, on the whole, refreshing to read.

James Browning Kepple's work is open about its politics from the start, with pieces about a war veteran seeking forgiveness, the Cuban national baseball team and the uncomfortably blunt "jesus is a walmart." Another blunt instrument, "thunderstorms over virgin galactic," is frankly judgmental, peering down its nose at the "motley of used money" that can afford to holiday in space. And it's surprising to find such a purportedly modern style turned to conservative nostalgia, as in "Gone were the sad daisy," "Ox-eye stranger / pumping gas...."

But Kepple also achieves moments of serious yum, as in "Transient Baltimore Ship Builder," "Jon Benet" or tasty morsels like a "child's crayon remarks" ("for a veteran seeking rose"). Flip the book over and there are further tasty morsels from Kim Goransson, like the ideas that "hitchcock themselves / under the skin" ("note found in a notebook on a park bench in a park"). Best of anything here is "Brigitte Bardot swam in the pool the day my grandmother died," which juxtaposes the two characters of the title in a truly original way, gorgeously and movingly.

Kepple credits Dr. Polysceni Indya Tzimourtas and Olesya Mishechkina with helping to edit his work. Hm. This book might have done with a more substantial editor: the torrent of words is overwhelming and it is impossible to get any sense of it as a self-contained unity (or even two self-contained unities). Conversely, if there was never going to be any unifying logic to the collection, it is a shame not to see in Goransson's roll call "the pope is dying and i can't stop eating" -- a poem whose title alone is pure brilliance.

review by
Ailbhe Darcy

16 June 2007

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