Two Books: X. J. Kennedy, That Swing: Poems, 2008–2016; Alexandra Oliver, Let the Empire Down
X. J. Kennedy, That Swing: Poems, 2008–2016
Baltimore, Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017
ISBN 978-1-4214-2244-2, 96 pp., USA $19.95, paperback
Alexandra Oliver, Let the Empire Down
Windsor, Ontario: Biblioasis, 2016
ISBN 978-1-77196-078-6, 72 pp., Canada $18.95, paperback
Contemporary poetry—whether formal or not—seems to have settled largely into a lyric mode, and while the impulse may sometimes be misguided, the personal nature of lyric poetry makes it difficult not to read new collections as, to some extent, updates on the life of the poet writing the book. Both That Swing and Let the Empire Down present poets at different stages of life, and both take up concerns characteristic of those life stages.
X. J. Kennedy is best known as a practitioner of that now-rare genre, “light verse.” His new collection, That Swing, contains many poems that can seem comic on the surface, or start out that way, but darker ideas keep breaking in. The collection as a whole enacts a struggle between comic impulses and ideas of aging, loss and mortality, and despite the jaunty title, the darkness seems to prevail. Perhaps “Mood Indigo” would have been a more fitting Ellingtonian borrowing; a brooding twilight hangs over this collection, lit by flashes of bleak humor. The book begins with “Lonesome George”:
No mate for him exists.
Last one of his subspecies,
he solemnly persists
in turning into feces
eelgrass brown and dry,
spine-sprinkled cactus leaves.
Straining to gulp a . . .
. . . . . . .
[ subscribers: login for full text ]