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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Review of The Briar Patch by J. Kates

These poems by J. Kates pay attention in an unblinking way to the human condition. Their sometimes prickly, sometimes witty observations on life and art dance with stark, often startling insight. Kates uses rhyme, off-rhyme, and other formalist techniques with a light touch, bringing out the poetic moments, not overwhelming them. His dramatic details strike honest notes, whether he is bemoaning democracy’s wasting effect on artistry, recording the passionate violence in a lovers’ quarrel, or looking down a gun’s barrel. The poet’s introductory title piece sets the tone and it is, in its way, too true. He says,


… Everything’s attached.

In the briar patch whichever way

you turn, somebody gets scratched.


From the beginning of this book Kates seems to inject a bit of old time religion. The concept of predestination is trotted out front and center. Universal creation cues ennui. Even human tragedy and evil one generally expects as part of life. As you are slowing down looking at the next horrendous crack up, you hear the poetic traffic cop exclaim, “Nothing to see here; move along.” In the poem Six-Day Wonder, Kates describes the humdrum,


… The celebrated night-

and-day dichotomy had praise


from man, the delegate, whose chief end

was to make glory of all this

orderly chaos and pretend

that a small part of it was his.


The sun in place, nothing was new

under it. The stars were moved

because there was nothing else to do

but love, and be loved.


Notice the word pretend. In the poet’s predictable world, man must still pretend that he controls something, anything.  For more of my review of The Briar Patch go here: http://dougholder.blogspot.com/2012/10/the-briar-patch-selected-poems.html

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