Monday, January 3, 2011

The Sore Throat by Aaron Kunin, poetry

I'm not sure how old Aaron Kunin is, but even if I hadn't seen his author photo, I'd have guessed he was youngish...there's something about the words in this collection that feel youthful.  I'm guessing he's a bit of a punk.  Maybe the kid in the back row of the classroom, making smart remarks behind the teacher's back?

In any case, The Sore Throat has been an intriguing read.  He analyzes words in a way that twists them inside out, and the repetition of some words makes you look at them differently.  The same word can be read differently, and I'm not just talking about synonyms.  It's a feel of directness, and the collection almost feels like an accusation...there doesn't seem to be a divide between poet and reader.

For example, in "No Word, No Sign", he toys with what is a word.

everything I once was sure of seems wrong;
for what you do to my way of seeing,
so that I start to doubt my own eyes if
what my eyes report isn't just like what

I hear you say;  and for what you do to
my voice to keep it from talking, to keep down
every word somewhere where I can't remember
it:  for this, there's no word.  To me

you're like a machine without a purpose,
whose purpose is to cast doubt on every
idea that my mind is thinking, and
the end of every idea is you.

You, to me, are a kind of fault in the
mind, a complete system of bad habits,
a video that I keep seeing or a word
I keep saying (do I have a choice?), and

this word has no meaning, and anyway
it's not a word, for there's no
word that contains what you are....

There's an ambiguity here that feels like this could be a romantic poem or one filled with hate.  What "word" defines it as such? 

In "For Pleasure", a similar ambiguity or disconnectedness is he commiserating or insulting?

"Sigh no more," moron, sigh no more!
Let laughter have voice, for a change;
Let there be pleasure, let there be goodness;
Be kind, be kind, and be knowing!

Let like keep with like, and no more
Weeping;  let rats dance with rats and
Not be sorry;  let laughter last
Longer than weeping.

Rain Taxi magazine (Vol.15, No.3) had a review by Sumita Chakraborty that explained that Kunin uses only about 200 words in the entire collection, and that some of this is a nod to Ezra Pound.  I'm not familiar enough with Pound to have caught on to that, but I did notice the limited use of words and the repetition.  Maybe it's more an allusion to Mies van der Rohe, "Less is more."  I don't think it ever translates as cramped;  Kunin feels very comfortable within his own confines.  And the lack of the expansive verbosity that appears in some poetry makes this collection almost pop in it's brevity and forthrightness.  This is an intricate collection that is bold and unhesitant.  

Special thanks to Fence Books for the Review Copy.

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