Fear, Some : Poems by Douglas Kearney
Red Hen Press, 2006. 96 pages. ISBN: 1-59709-071-9.
(Originally published in buzz magazine on 1/19/2009)
Douglas Kearney’s first book, published in 2006 by Red Hen Press, has won him critical praise from the LA Times and, in October 2008, the $50,000 Whiting Writers’ Award. The Los Angeles area resident and former MFA student at the California Institute of the Arts should be familiar to those who attended last spring’s Ninth Letter launch party in the Krannert Art Museum. For the sake of those who missed it, let’s hope he makes a swift return to the C-U because his razor-sharp lines explode with the rambunctious wordplay of Grandmaster Flash and the broad scope of T.S. Eliot. His alternately — and sometimes simultaneously — brutal and hilarious images really jump off the page, and reading them silently doesn’t do them justice.
Fear, Some is a collection of poetry in five parts: “Slaps I Needed,” focused on his past and personal life; “The Jet Roar Says,” an irreverent look at war and politics; “Love ’em to Death,” an update on American race relations; “Waiting for Something to Spill,” a redefining of what it means to be a poet in the 21st century; and “The Mouth Gulps the Puppet,” consisting of a meandering and self-referential epic poem that pokes fun at everything from blackface acting to tourists to academia — and even the art of poetry itself. Highlights include “Live/Evil,” a poem grappling with Miles Davis’s wife abuse. It begins as “the pin’s point comes down on the butter fly. / the knuckle comes down on Ms. Cicely. / the mallet comes down on the CD case.” Kearney interchanges these images, and “the mallet comes down on the butterfly. / the pin’s point comes down on Ms. Cicely,” etc. — just one example of Kearney’s recurring technique of essentially “remixing” his own poetry to create new meanings with the same words.
Kearney’s The Black Automaton will be released by Fence Books in fall 2009. He sampled works from his second book during the Ninth Letter reading, inviting volunteers to come up and choose the word order of his poems that, much like “The Chitlin Circuit” from Fear, Some, experiments with performative typography. “His poems,” LA Times writer Carolyn Kellogg explains, “splay out across the pages in an eruptive mix of font sizes and styles, with arrows inserting text and directing flow.”
His new chapbook Spare Parts + Lost Cities can be downloaded in PDF form for free at douglaskearney.com.