Peycho Kanev and Felino Soriano, with Robert Wells II and Duane Locke
r is a collaboration between Peycho Kanev and Felino Soriano (with contributions by editor Edward Wells II and photographer Duane Locke). This collection is primarily concerned with art – whether that be commentary about poetry and music, or works of ekphrasis. Kanev and Soriano are brilliantly forceful and descriptive poets, which makes for an intense and engaging book.
The opening poem, “small revenge,” begins with a strophe that stunned me with its force. In just a few short lines, Kanev manages both to criticize historic, outdated, canonical poets, and provide a brief manifesto for his own work:
I don’t care about the metrics, the iambus
and the rhymes – I have read the classics and then
I put them back on their dusty shelves:
we write about something that comes from the guts
and the nails as the flowers outside
As the poem continues, Kanev continuously invokes and then rejects the past, all the while emphasizing the primacy of his own voice. “small revenge” is a fantastic opening, one which leaves you cheering for Kanev as he pushes his voice into the world for public view.
Soriano contributed the “Painters’ Exhalations,” are a group of ekphratic poems that are clustered throughout the collection. Soriano’s work here is excellent, a definitive example of quality ekphrasis. His poems augment Kanev’s discussions of poetry, music, and self; they take us out of the mind and into the art gallery. Here, what we see on the canvas is transcribed perfectly into words.
There were only two poems in this entire collection that I felt could have been excluded: “Bukowski once said that all poets die in big steaming piles of shit” and “the old boys.” In “the old boys,” Kanev writes:
I hate your old gray robes
I despise your white wigs
and most of all I scorn your
volumes of poetry full of nothing
nothing at all
Like “small revenge,” this poem is an indictment of the so-called old masters (as well as contemporary poets who make their living as creative writing professors and do not teach anything of value). But while the narrator rails against these authors, there is not a sense of his own power that there was in “small revenge.” Instead, there is almost a sense of jealousy here, bitterness that the author’s own work is not respected. Meanwhile, in “Bukowski,” Kanev writes:
we get published in small
while the rich kids at the universities
keep writing their awful poetry
and of course they are published
in big fat print anthologies
Once again, while I appreciate the power of Kanev’s indictments, I am also put off by what I perceive to be self-pity. Of course, one should be furious when obviously poor-quality work is given undue respect. At the same time, though, these poems take an attitude that does not work well, especially after the force and affirmation of “small revenge.” Neither “the old boys” nor “Bukowski” contains such an affirmation, and as a result makes these poems significantly less compelling.
Further, while I understand Kanev’s perspective and anger, I think a philosophical difference is what keeps me from fully enjoying these poems. I want to say to Kanev: let these rich college kids be published in anthologies. If the anthologies are taking such bad work anyway, why would you want your own artistry associated with that? Who cares what the middle-aged creative writing professors are doing? We don’t write for them. Maybe we’re going to be working in factories and retail jobs and who knows what else for as long as we live. Maybe we’re only going to be published in small independent magazines. But we’re not writing for publishers; we’re not writing for agents; we’re writing for ourselves, and for the others who are smart enough to value the work that we do.
Minor complaints aside, r is a wonderful collection. My favorite piece is the meta-work entitled “the poetry is nothing to fuck with,” a Whitmanesque ars poetica. Everything is poetry: bums, madmen, punk rockers. But what really makes this poem stand out is the conclusion:
and at the end
when this world
explodes into the nothing
it will be poetry too
Not only are people poetry, but even the end of time as we know it is poetry – and what’s more, it will be poetry that nobody will be able to write down and pass on to future generations, because we will all be dead. The end of the universe is poetry, and it sure doesn’t care about us or the people getting anthologized. Poetry simply exists without human intervention; it happens whether humans are around to write it or not. I think that is one of the most beautiful ideas one could express.
r is available for purchase at Amazon.com.