One of Last Year’s Marrow Reviews: Robin Richardson’s Knife Throwing Through Self Hypnosis (ECW, 2013)

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What Shines: Along with the dramatically cheese-ball cover of a pulp hero on the verge of stabbing a lion, the explosive title sets the reader up for a host of other zingers such as “Mike Kooh’s Palliative Care Unit,” “Porn Star on a Monday Morning” and “Lick Spittle,” many titular piercings drawn from songs, films or even emails. The strongest vignettes are those that blend imagination, believable content and an ear for the resonant pulse. The first poem that grabbed my jugular through the fusion of these three forces was “When Vacation means the Feasting of the Sea,” a piece focusing on a cruise ship captain where all the images, however surreal, are nonetheless consistent, as in the line, he “leans in/ like a porpoise at the dinette’s crystal/coffee table.” Emotive engagement is established by the accretion of sensory details, all attentive to this singular, approachable character. And the end is aurally powerful, capable of stabbing a simple scene in the reader’s psyche in the manner of a Faulkner or O’Connor: “sallow faced, he sips his julep -/two cubes, blue-hued, heavy on the bourbon.” I lingered long on the auditory deliciousness of “ju-cu-blu-bou.” Other poems attain this level of scrumptious melding such as “Inheritance, “New General Theory of the Gold-Eyed Albino,” “Little Robin,” “Trillium,” “Heart as Bargaining Chip:Story of a Small-Town Girl” and “It looks fake, I like it,” lyrics that not only zip through the cerebellum and ear canal but also claim some investment in their pronomial energy. Perhaps it’s my passion for the lyric form that leads me to seek for connectivity and structure but when I find either lacking I tend to detach. Which leads me to….

What Stumbles:

I was impressed by these smart, perky, allusive entrees into Richardson’s zany psyche, especially when they rose to a bee-bop perversity, but a rococo cold also pervades them to the point where I often felt myself shiveringly shrugging with indifference. The poems, beginning with such Wham Bam titles, can peter out at the end as if the author simply ran out of inspiration and let the unfolding of narrative or imagery drop. Flattened out sashays include “Bold in the Evening,” “Disco at the End of Days,” “Vertigo,” “All about Eve” and “Obviously Doctor, you’ve never been a Twelve-Year Old Girl.” Exposed to a barrage of these contextually disengaged poems I started to feel, “clever but who cares.” Or it may have been indigestion, who knows.

What It Echoes (along with above allusions): 

TS Eliot’s “Hysteria,” early Ashbery, David McGimpsey lite meets Stuart Ross gilded, Casablanca (1942), dim sum in a palace on the edge of a swamp, Francois Boucher’s The Interrupted Sleep (1750), Zappa’s “Why Does it hurt when I pee” mixed with the Bee Gees “Staying Alive” and Philip Glass “Metamorphosis,” Frank O’Hara going for zigzaggy walk through a pop culture ghetto.

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