KIRKUS REVIEW: Grinnell’s debut poetry collection ranges far and wide—history poems collide with the blues, elegy provokes eulogy, and narrative breaks into lyric.
The book’s organization into just four numbered sections belies the largesse of its contents. Crammed with details, these poems are dedicated to specific people (such as musicians Leadbelly and Jimi Hendrix and painter Edvard Munch) and many hew to specific places and dates. Their detail is a strong suit: epigraphs top each section, dialogue encrusts the lines, and engaging diction embroiders them. This is not to say the poems are all surface and no heart, as deep subjects lurk underneath the display. “The Down-Home Harrower,” for example, opens with its speaker’s confessional crankiness: “My whole life I’ve been sort of shaky-like most warm afterglows / but hard as a freezing fool can be, understand––way deep–– / nobody your crowd would care to surround with its wineglass / chitchat… / My whole life lay waiting to clutch you to my sacred, my barbwire / heart.” The straining syntax and dialectlike diction create a voice worth listening to—one that can tell readers something about love and threat. Although the majority of the poems take people as their subjects, the poet depicts landscapes, too. “The One Who Married a Wave” merges natural images with sexual love: “Island with barnacle-studded boulders, / I want to drift on you, to breathe, refreshed, as sea winds whip / the long grasses, lifting and whirling spores.” The haunting “Vapor Waltz” includes the cosmos in its mourning song: “With no time left, my love, / whole galaxies have fled. / With no time left in your eyes–– / come glide from your cooling bed!” These poems search out the powers that “erupt each night / in stars, insights, and cornered crowds.”
Alive, inspired verses from a poet with ample and accomplished range.
Flickering Kingdoms attempts to evoke the wider social order as an interacting system on the societal, group and individual levels. In closed and open forms, these linguistically playful, condensed, phonetically rich, jazzily rhythmic, and at times hard-hitting poems balance concrete, precise language with controlled ambiguity. Sometimes—in such poems as “The Moonlight Hitchhiker,” “Found on a Fallen Conscript,” “The Unseasonable,” “Somebody Fished from a Swimming Pool,” or “The Down-home Harrower”— speakers from various places in society offer their stories, which sometimes fail to relate the entire truth, but still reveal more about what their tellers think than they realize. In diction ranging from street to manor, employing myth and occasionally dream logic, the poems in this collection explore interrelated psychological, moral, economic, political, social and spiritual stresses inherited from our cultural past which underlie and unsettle the contemporary urban landscape.
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