Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Best American Poetry 2012: James Kimbrell at The Party!

Anthologies are private literary parties. You can hang out all evening with old friends, make new acquaintances, spend the night, leave whenever and with whomever you want. But the best part is the morning after--if you wake up with someone in bed with you, you can see him or her to the door before breakfast, and never have to hear their voice again--or you can invite them to stay, spend the day, see the city together, start a relationship. The decision is all yours.

James Kimbrell is a poet new to me from Best American Poetry 2012 that I will definitely follow up on.

About "How to Tie a Knot," Kimbrell comments in his contributor's note that he "wanted to ground this poem in a physical hunger that might give voice to a more or less spiritual desire, the desire for access to the real, whatever it might finally be." With antecedents reminiscent of St. Paul's famous "Love Chapter" in I Corinthians ("If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels..."), Kimbrell opens the poem:

If I eat a diet of rain and nuts, walk to the P.O.
in a loincloth, file for divorce from the world of matter,
say "not-it!" to the sea oats, "not-it!" to the sky
above the disheveled palms, "not-it!" to the white or green oyster boats
and the men on the bridge with their fishing rods
that resemble so many giant whiskers,
if I repeat "this is not-it, this is not why I'm waiting here,"
will I fill the universe with all that is not-it
and allow myself to grow very still in the center of
this fishing town in winter?

But, as can be seen, unlike St. Paul's consequent pronouncement ("and have not love--I become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal"), Kimbrell's consequent "then" statement is not a statement, but a question. Thus does his syntax begin the unwinding of the poem, even as it begins to bring together two disparate stanzas, the second of which informs us:

I came out here to pare things down,
wanted to be wind, simple as sand, to hear each note
in the infinite orchestra of waves fizzling out
beneath the rotting dock at five o'clock in the afternoon
when the voice that I call "I" is a one-man boat
slapping toward the shore of a waning illusion.

After reading "How to Tie a Knot" I have no illusion about Kimbrell's ability to join together his "physical hunger" with "spiritual desire" as he fishes for his "fat flounder out there/deep in [its] need...flesh both succulent and flakey/when baked with white wine, lemon and salt, [its] eyes/rolling toward their one want when the line jerks, and the reel/ clicks, and the rod bends, and you give up/the ocean floor for a mouthful of land."

James Kimbrell leaves me hungry for more. Thankfully he has two books, The Gatehouse Heaven (1998) and My Psychic (2006), both from Sarabande Books, which I intend on devouring soon. And if I'm ever in Tallahassee, Florida, where he is an associate professor of English at Florida State University, I will try to be there when he is reading--maybe there will be a party!

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