19
Jan
13

Christopher Kennedy’s Encouragement for a Man Falling to His Death (2007)

Over the next few weeks or months, I will post all my reviews (“Tom’s Celebrations”) that appeared in Redactions: Poetry, Poetics, & Prose (formerly Redactions: Poetry & Poetics) up to and including issue 12. After that, my reviews appeared here (The Line Break) before appearing in the journal. This review first appeared in issue 10, which was published circa April 2007.

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Christopher Kennedy's – Encouragement for a Man Falling to His DeathYou could read the poems in Christopher Kennedy’s Encouragement for a Man Falling to His Death (BOA Editions) & hear irreverence, and I imagine if I received them individually at Redactions, I would. Or you could read the whole of Encouragement for a Man Falling to His Death, and realize that you are just hearing a tone of irreverence that is covering up fear, aloneness (“the germ / of [. . .] loneliness”), and absence (“when every presence became his [his father’s] absence”).

Yes, the speaker’s father was lost, but how he was lost is a mystery between what happened, what happened to someone else, and the memory splicing the two together. In “To the Man who Played the Violin and Fell from a Plank into a Vat of Molten Steel,” we learn of a violinist who fell into a vat of molten steel, but before he fell, he gave the speaker’s father, who was a fiddle player, his violin. Later in the poem, when the speaker reflects on when he was young and missing his father, his mother would comfort him, and then we hear a different story. The way the story is told, perhaps the person who fell in the vat was the speaker’s father, and this is suggested by the the tone and language of speaking.

   And every time the mother would say,
   Your father worked with a man from Portugal
   who played the violin, and one day at work,
   he fell from a plank into a vat of molten steel.

The tone and what precedes and the subject of the sentence imply the father died, and because the way the mother speaks implies it may be the violinist who fell into the vat. There’s an ambiguity here. Perhaps, it was in a house fire where his father died, as is hinted at in “My Father in the Fifth dimension.” Nonetheless, the father died somehow. However the father died, he is dead. And once when the speaker was a child, he tried to mend his dead father’s pants, but as he tries in “My Father’s Work Clothes,” his “hands keep folding, mysteriously, into prayer.”

This is what the speaker has to deal with from that point on – how to deal with his father’s death. As he grew, he must have learned to hide his fear through biting humor and irreverence  Consider the prose-poem, “Broken Saints.” It’s the day of his father’s funeral, and he is waiting for his babysitter to arrive. While he waits, he “bit the heads off plastic statues,” and then “arranged the headless bodies like bowling pins and rolled the heads at them until all the bodies fell down.” When the female babysitter arrives, “she shook her head” at what he had done, then:

She sat me down on the floor, and we began matching heads to bodies, gluing them together. The key, I learned, was eyeing the uneven necklines to see where the curves would mesh. They were never exact; the heads bowed slightly at times in prayer. And no matter how many times I tried, I couldn’t hide their shame.

Already, we can begin to see the complexities of irreverence and the confrontation of death. Kennedy, throughout, becomes “a man of conviction in an era of who gives / a fuck.”//

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Kennedy, Christopher. Encouragement for a Man Falling to His Death. Rochester, NY: BOA Editions, 2007.//


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