A review of Jason Kirk’s Reverb

Reverb: PoemsReverb: Poems by Jason Kirk

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Reverb, Jason Kirk’s poetry chapbook published by Mad Peeps Press, is unashamedly experimental. It experiments with layout, typology, punctuation, rhyme scheme, spacing and line-breaks… This poet likes to stay off the beaten track. This is a love it or hate it, polarizing kind of work, indeed, like Marylin Manson or Japanese anime. Visually, the Kindle’s formatting demons caused a lot of damage here: only the longest lines are broken in landscape mode, but the best experience is on a full-size computer screen or, as always, on the printed page.

Reverb is fragmented and dense with wordplay, taking the epistolary format to spin it into something entirely new. Subject and agent, writer and recipient – here the shifters, the signified, are part of the process, literary devices in their own right: the traditional “Dear Sir/Madam” crosses over into the figurative (“Dear velvet felt feathers down”), to later devolve into the utterly cryptic: “Dear & Then”. Even the date line becomes part of the poetic process.

The narrator/letter-writer is at one point a monkey, at another a whale, and in one case a 13th century italian poet, Cecco Angiolieri. The Pathetic Southern Right, the whale-song, is among my favourites, an eco-friendly lament wrapped in satire: “This is what’s truly paralyzing, / Ladies and first mates, I’m merely awaiting / Your harpoon.” Flu Hammers captures in reader-friendly terms the experience of being physically ill, offering between the lines a meditation on seasonal change (with some grumbling and complaining thrown in, because what’s a flu except an valid excuse to complain about everything). Love-themed poems have a haunting edge, and Emergency Monologue, another favourite, is visceral and really communicates the paradox and conflicting feelings of an intense experience (namely, bleeding in an emergency room).

Though most poems seem to work together, interacting to colour the entire collection, they are worlds apart. The epistolary format is not consistent, and to me, not truly that effective. The poetry is strong, but playing too hard to get for my taste. The poet knows his language, but the artifice of striving for “original” layout and transgressive punctuation/grammar/syntax seems to hinder, rather than facilitate, the reader experience. One poem is half-erased and titled “The Rest was Burned with Liquid Fuel […]” – in this instance the brokenness, the challenge of understanding, makes sense in the context. However, often the brokenness, the rule-bending, seems to me an affectation. What I really enjoyed was the absurd edge, the raw emotive power and of course the humour, the quirkiness, which drew me in. No need to bend over backwards, the words should suffice.

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