LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
Copyright © 2012 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.
Volume 58, No.1 - Spring 2012
Editor of this issue: Laimonas Briedis
Keys, Kerry Shawn. Transporting, A Cloak of Rhapsodies. Rockford, Michigan: Presa Press, 2010. 112 Pages. ISBN 978-0-9800081-8-0. $15.95.
If one thing might be said about the poetry of Kerry Shawn Keys, it would be that he is a poet who is not afraid to play. His latest collection, Transporting, a cloak of rhapsodies, eschews the fear of poetic restriction. He is not afraid to rhyme, not afraid to sing his songs on the edge of the reader’s comprehension, not afraid to dive into vertiginous shifts between clusters of classical mythology within single poems (I will admit that I kept Google and Wikipedia at hand while reading the book). Most importantly, the book seems to be obsessed with questioning or challenging the sedentary nature of ideals and reality—along with the purity of everything.
“[I]nside the pure being of pure rhythm is death’s fairyland,” says Keys’s narrator in the poem “Prolonging a Contiguous Moment in a Galaxy of Gravity.” Whether this reoccurring narrator is Keys or merely a fragment of Keys’s personality that we could call his muse, this narrator guides us through past and present, at times looking for a refurbished sense of identity that wants “to be nothing, a player in the rhythm / of another carpe diem.” But swathed in darkness at the cusp of day, the narrator finds himself locked in the nightmarish unrest that is the transitional space of a reality in which “the earth wants to suck us in.” The narrator sings out the knowledge of his existence in such moments:
am lost I am lost I am lost, until the sun in a peacock burnoose
accosts the scene as my saviour
I am nothing, I am a grasshopper,
I am the incredible shrinking man
“Prolonging,” like other poems in this collection, plays with the idea(s) of our many day-to-day encounters with elements of reality (both physical and psychological), elements that, at the very least, have one or more diametrical companions. For all the purity of existence, there is the “chaos [that] comes in little Nothings and space is a terrible monad,” in which we must be conscious of the fact that “one word and one word only and we all will explode.”
Realism is always pushing against the edge of surrealism, light against the edge of dark. Throughout this collection, Keys playfully and unabashedly presents to the reader a love poem, “While the World Shines,” followed by a poem on ancient and modern imperialism, “from the Fatigue-Script Chronicles (2),” then one discussing philosophical inquiry, “Egg as in Egg.” Subsequently, any mixture of these subjects may be found within a poem. Transporting is at once a chaotic landscape of lament, joy, and anger, while at the same time, a conscious amalgamation of the same elements.
Like all poets, Keys attempts to grapple with the real world (or at least that of the poem) in his own way. However, Keys (or his narrator, we might say) approaches the world, both ancient and modern, from a retrospective position. Keys, who lives in Vilnius and is now in his mid-sixties, states very forwardly in his preamble to Transporting that the poems are from a new place in his life: “They reflect the departure from my bardic-bucolic lifestyle to a self-imposed [relegation] in the Baltics brought on by a bad back, and a meniscus and ligaments hamstrung by the Roman legions of America’s pathetic healthcare system. Once again I found myself engaging the urban jungle.” It is from the transitional space between rural and urban, between youthful mind and aged learnedness that this collection moves toward being its own anthology of a life of knowledge and an exploration of dealing with what is now known.
These transitional themes are most
notable in Keys’s
“Litany of a Collaborator,” a poem that very openly
echoes Alan Ginsberg’s “Howl”:
“and the best of my friends have laced their brains / with
the spirits and escapist visions I poured into them / and then watched
their skin flake away like leprous cellophane.” But where
Ginsberg’s is a bomb newly exploding out into the world with
proclamations about a generation from the
perspective of a more recessed narrator, Keys’s narrator is the focus of the poem as a man dissecting the aged self to impart the results of his introspection. In the end, Keys’s narrator reasserts the idea that the world is elemental, that the parts are as spectral as love poetry and deeply philosophical poetry, and it is collaboration between such differing parts of the whole that accounts for the “answer to all existence.”
If anything might be added to my initial assessment of Keys’s poetry as playful, it’s that his poetry is playful in its wisdom. How does one empty the mind of its contents, of the baggage imparted to it from the centuries that predate its coming into the world? Transporting is an exhibition of Keys’s attempts to do so with a flexibility of mind and form fit for a yoga class. As his narrator in “Purging Purgatory” might suggest, Keys has been stretching his mind for years under the influences of “the polarities of Heaven and Hell.”