Cyril Wong reviews Young Rain by Kevin Hart
New Poems by Kevin Hart
Giramondo, 2008 (85 pages)
Reviewed by CYRIL WONG
Kevin Hart’s poems are full of darkness and light, oscillating gracefully between meditations on death, the limits of selfhood, sex and the erotics of longing and memory. And although they are composed in a style that seems disarmingly straightforward, the poems sometimes suffer from a barefaced corniness.
When the poet is attempting to draw our attention to a name within a name, within which his dead mother sleeps (“My Name”), or the life “barely lived” that brushes against him on its way to somewhere far away (“That Life”), it is with a elegiac sense of loss, as well as a desire to define the ineffable in life and language. At times, reminiscent of Robert Frost, the speaker celebrates the reduction of his life to the barest of essentials: “My hands – I rest my head on them. / My eyes – I rest my mind on them. / There’s nothing that I really need” (“Nights”).
Other times, such as during the “Amo Te Solo” sequence, the language becomes trite (“There is no life on earth / I would not spend with you”), quasi-poetic without being funny (“When a tornado starts its crazy swirl / Just let the house blow down”), even banal (“And my right hand works o so quietly there”) and the poet seems to mistake crudeness for authentic candour (“Fuck off, fat clock – I want her now”). It is also amusing to note how John Koethe, on the back of the book, is eager to claim that such “lustiness…has almost disappeared from contemporary poetry.” Koethe has obviously not been to many slam-poetry readings in- and outside of his country.
It is during the shorter lyrics that follow that the book seems to really take off. In “The Great Truths,” for example, the poet juxtaposes a self-conscious sense of banality
(“The world is love / No matter what we make of it”) with the cleverness of lines like “The pen must know a hand on it” and “pens fly quickly to our hands,” while in “Lightning Words,” a mental struggle plays out in taut moments like this: “Prayer, / That terrible, strange thing – // A soul / Unclenching something fierce to play…With evening falling fast…And hoping to be gripped / Halfway down.” A grappling with the onset of darkness, and with what this darkness can mean for the spiritually anxious speaker, forms the troubled heart of this quiet and sustained meditation.
In the fourth section, a long sequence, “Night Music,” takes centre stage, where a greater poetic artfulness and an infinitely more affecting display of honesty are showcased: “The day my mother died I was home late: / My lover told me bluntly at the door…I heard her slice / Onions and carrots while I simply say / And waited for the thought to cover me / So I could live inside it for a while.” Then in the fifth and final section, a stirring and evocative long poem, “Dark Retreat,” takes on the dark again (whose meaning is personified dramatically): “Dark One, you know me to the bone, / You scrape my heart / And find too much that frightens me. / The dead are yours, I know; but still I turn.” But the speaker is ambivalent about this terrifying union with the dark; there is the chance that it might reunite him with loved ones, after all: “My father – he is dark / My wife – o she is dark / They are not far: take me.”
Here is a poetry that bravely attempts to speak to a universal experience of desire and love, but also loss and mourning. It is full of equivocation and a brazen sentimentality that occasionally undermines the force of its message. Yet, as a book, Young Rain has enough of a convincing sensuality and a persistent sense of metaphysical wonder to make up for its deficiencies.