Posts Tagged ‘Keetje Kuipers


On Keetje Kuipers’ All Its Charms

A version of this review (and a better edited version) may appear in a future issue of Redactions: Poetry & Poetics.


Keetje Kuipers All Its CharmsAll Its Charms (BOA Editions, 2019) is Keetje Kuipers’ third full-length collection of poems. There is much to admire in this book, but what catches most of my attention are the steady, evolving tones paralleling a woman becoming a mother.

The book begins with poems of a speaker confronted with the morality of killing creatures. The opening poem, “Becoming,” recalls William Stafford’s “Traveling Through the Dark,” where Stafford has to decide what to do with the dead pregnant doe with a living fawn inside her. Stafford “thought hard for all of us – my only swerving –, / then pushed her over the edge into the river.” Kuipers’ similar incident is “When I saw that early spring / meadowlark – one-winged, flapping into the road – / I pressed my heal to its chest, to the earth” (9). She, like Stafford, provides mercy. In the following poem, “Landscape with Sage and the Names of My Children,” she held a “dead / buck by his antlers and dragged him through the sage” (10). In the next poem, “The elk my father shot,” she witnesses her father’s respect for an elk he just shot with a bow and arrow, as he is “quiet / so as not to scare away the grazing // ghost he’s made” (11). The tone of these opening poems is one of conflicted compassion. A tone not dissimilar to Stafford’s thinking “hard for all of us.”

After these opening poems, the tone shifts to joy, reverence, and awe. What’s remarkable is how long Kuipers sustains the tone, which is for about half the book. And this tone is inspired by a pregnant mother awaiting her new life and trying to create the joyful atmosphere for her soon-to-arrive child. The tone affects the poems’ attitude and me, as I felt uplifted. In “Migration Instinct,” she compares her earlier life of a late-night partier and a careless spender who maxes out her credit card to her present life. The joyful tone asserts itself in the final lines (which is where it often happens), when she writes of her current situation:

     But I’ve got dishes to wash, tiny sock after sock
     to fold. Sadness is so much work. Angry takes too much 

     time. And there’s my own daughter, mouth to my breast
     as she winks in the lamplight, sucking it all right out me.   (23)

After reminiscing, she is faced with chores, but then is swept away in the adorable cuteness of baby socks, and pendulums back to her youthful, unfulfilling feelings, then swings back to a winking baby enabling her to experience a new type of love. She finds hope and awe, as if she has blossomed into a new and meaningful life.

This delightful tone continues into the second half of the book, too, but on occasion, it is interrupted by the worries a mother (I assume) tends to have. The tonal demarcation isn’t clear cut, but it starts somewhere around the poem “Outside the Refugium.” In this poem, Kuipers watches a magpie eat a dead sparrow and swallow its heart. Then the magpie speaks to her, “Yes, the world has always been this fragile” (37), before the worry of protecting and caring for a child sets in. In the following poem, “Picking Huckleberries as the World Ends,” she worries about how she’ll “shelter” her child. Following that in “Landscape with Children,” she thinks to herself about her child:

                                          Your absence
     is impossible, unimaginable. 

     You can’t ever be gone from me – a prayer
     I hold under my tongue like a dark pill 

     I’m afraid to swallow.   (39)

I start to see what I think is the evolution of a mother. A single mother who had a baby via sperm donation and who is alone in the world with her child amid real and imagined concerns that are presenting themselves to her. Bravely, she learns to negotiate those feelings with a joyful tone, again, such as at the end of “Collaborators”:

     we drive our big cars onto because now

     we can go anywhere, ferries that took
     the people from the clear shore of their lives

     to the internment camps on the mainland
     because nothing could be more dangerous

     than living among each other where voices
     unnetted and rising in complaint

     are a flock of birds that can make no better
     song than the one which we sing together.  (52)

She realizes no matter what happens, they will make it, they will survive, and they will make joyful music.

While the tones evolve and oscillate, as they probably should or the book would be too sugary, Kuipers sees the world like a sparrow, whose “head [is] turned to the side / so one black eye can search the stippled sky / in ecstasy,” even as it is being eaten alive by a magpie. She rises out of her past life of soured relationships and experiences, and she finds joy and compassion in her new life as a mother, and therein lies the beauty of the book and all its charms.//





Kuipers, Keetje. All Its Charms. BOA Editions, 2019.



redactions: poetry & poetics 2011 pushcart prize nominations

It’s that time of year again, and Redactions: Poetry & Poetics, with its guest editor Sean Thomas Dougherty and editor Tom Holmes, has nominated its six favorite poems. The nominees in the order of appearance in issue 14 (The I-90 Poetry Revolution issue) are:

  1. Jonathan Farmer’s “Jellyfish” (pages 10-11)
  2. Holly Virginia Clark’s “The Birdhouse” (pages 18-19)
  3. Lisa Akus’ “Pumpkin Poem (Untitled)” (page 36)
  4. Martha Silano’s “Size” (page 43)
  5. Keetje Kuipers’ “Letter to an Inmate in Solitary Confinement” (page 49)
  6. Philip Metres’ “Letter to St. Petersburg” (page 50)

To read these poems and more, order a copy of the I-90 Poetry Revolution Issue from here:

You can also read the Pushcart Prize nominated poems here:




The I-90 Poetry Revolution Begins 9-3-11

The second most important date in the history of American poetry is September 3, 2011, at 7:30 p.m. This is when poets from all over the country will gather at A Different Path Gallery to read poems announcing and supporting the I-90 Poetry Manifesto. (You can read the manifesto here  or as PDF here.)

The I-90 Revolution Reading Poster

Besides reading the poems that will be heard ’round the world, it will be the release party of Redactions: Poetry & Poetics issue 14.

Redactions Issue 14 front cover(Special thanks to Kenny Lindsay for his help on the Tominator style for the letters.)

The final list of readers isn’t complete, but all the poets in issue 14 have been invited, including:

Corey Zeller, William Wright, Joe Wilkins, Antonio Vallone, Bill Tremblay, Daniel Tobin, Claudia M. Stanek, Matt Smythe, Martha Silano, Gregory Sherl, Ravi Shankar, Edwina Seaver, Wanda Schubmehl, Karen Schubert, John Roche, Michael Robins, Joseph Rathgeber, Nate Pritts, Derek Pollard, Dan Pinkerton, Eric Neuenfeldt, Laura E. J. Moran, Lindsay Miller, Philip Metres, Laura McCullough, Djelloul Marbrook, Gerry LaFemina, Keetje Kuipers, Les Kay, Kitty Jospe, Jonathan Johnson, Gwendolyn Cash James, Adam Houle, William Heyen, Andrei Guruianu, Richard Foerster, Jonathan Farmer, Deirdre Dore, Laura E. Davis, Jim Daniels, Charles Cote, Peter Conners, Holly Virginia Clark, Alex Cigale, Jan Wenk Cedras, Rob Carney, James Capozzi, John Bradley, Tricia Asklar, Sherman Alexie, Lisa Akus, and guest editor Sean Thomas Dougherty.

Don’t miss it. As Sean Thomas Dougherty says, “There will be poetry so beautiful it will change your life.”

A Different Path Gallery is located at 27 Market Street in Brockport, NY.

The event is free, but bring a bottle of wine if you can.

If you’re on Facebook, you can add it to your calendar here: I-90 Poetry Revolution Facebook page.

If you want a PDF of the poster, click The I-90 Revolution Reading Poster PDF.


Keetje Kuipers’ Beautiful in the Mouth

Beautiful in the MouthA version of the following review will appear in the next issue of Redactions: Poetry & Poetics.

Often with a collection of poems these days, especially those that win a contest, the collection is filled with the best poems the author wrote in the last year or two or three or five. This is fine. But give me a themed book, oh, now there’s joy. Or give me Keetje Kuipers’ newest collection Beautiful in the Mouth (BOA, 2010), winner of the A. Poulin Jr. Poulin Prize. This book has three main self-contained themes, love, sex, and death, and they all intertwine.

That finally coming to love you
has been a hard-earned pleasure,
so that every time you enter me
I want to cry out, Bury me,
bury me. Put me in the ground.


Further, what this book does within its three intertwining themes is to create associations within itself.

Sure any collection of poems has associations, but they are just happenstance, an accident, which is fine if you can see the largeness of the author’s synchronicities. But usually what happens is similar to what I. A. Richards says in Science and Poetry, “over whole tracts of natural emotional response we are to-day like a bed of dahlias whose sticks have been removed,” where sticks are beliefs or connections to something other or that move “towards something other than ourselves” (“Driving Back into the City”), and without the sticks, they don’t extend. So the associations don’t attach to anything bigger. With Kuipers, however, these associations are immediate, mental, psychological, emotional, unique, and everyday for her and at the same time connecting to something larger – love:

you’ve become the man I build
every poem from

(“My First Love Returns from Iraq”)

Plus, her poems are dictated by the needs of her associations.

What am I talking about?

Let’s look at one example, “boats.” What are your associations? Okay. Now, let’s look at what Beautiful in the Mouth does.

I’m not asking for love anymore.
I don’t care if I never see a sailboat again.

These are the last lines from “Fourth of July,” and after you read these lines, you feel she’s sick of love, or she doesn’t want to go on any more journeys of love. Something like the those two insights or both are the initial feelings. And there’s an association between love and sailboats, which is unique to her. But then you recall the first use of “boat” in the earlier poem, “Driving Back to the City”:

And our thighs rocking together like two moored boats in the night, all those tender lights held
tight in their hulls.

Now that’s sex. (A brief aside – there are a lot of sexy and erotic poems in this collection, and some are quite arousing.) Shortly after you finish the “Fourth of July,” the mind yokes together the two boat associations – boat, love, ooh, sex, yes. The associations that were unique to the poet are now becoming the readers.

In another sex poem that’s about love, “You Loved a Woman Once,” another “boat” appears, and it associates with tenderness. The boat associations are filling up with passengers of love, sex, and tenderness. She’s creating the boat’s associations through accretion. It’s not just the typical one-to-one association arising from a happenstance of synchronicity. The “boat” also incorporates despair:

                         academe gone down
like a fast ship on fire

(“Why I Live West of the Rockies”)

Then you encounter the sadness of the associative boat:

I think I’ve been sad for a long time now –
crying in my coffee near the Place des Vosges,
taking pictures of toy sailboats at the Jardin

(“Ne Me Quitte Pas”)

This boat is getting heavy with love, sex, tenderness, despair, and sadness. The boat appears to be love and everything that comes with it.

In fact, the further I get into the book, especially the last death-filled section, the more I hope for the boat to appear. The more I expect the boat to appear. The more I need the boat to appear. Finally, it does. After 13 pages without seeing the boat, when I need it most amid all the death, the boat appears twice in the penultimate poem, “What Afterlife.” In the first occurrence, it’s a metaphor for death and dying.

I think of my fifth summer
the day I lost one shoe
over the side of a sailboat,
it’s sinking away from me

into the untreadable dark.

When you get to the poem’s second occurrence of “sailboat,” you understand what she meant when she said, “I don’t care if I never see a sailboat again.” So much of the book and its self-created, ever-expanding associations come to conclusion in “What Afterlife,” especially the last few stanzas.

Kuipers’ boat is loaded with the intertwining associations of love, sex, tenderness, despair, sadness, and death. After successive reads, you see, hear, and feel how they are all one. You get to ride on Kuipers’ boat and feel it rock and sway.

In fact, you could argue that the boat is the metaphor for Beautiful in the Mouth. In fact:

You said the boat was her shoulder in your mouth, even when
you couldn’t bear her epaulets of freckles, even when nothing
but a body would do and there was no body but her own.

(“You Loved a Woman Once”)

The more I read Beautiful in the Mouth the more I notice how complicated it is. It’s as complicated as it is to be alive and just as beautiful.

This is a good year for poetry, so far, and it’s building up to be like 2005, and Keetje Kuipers’ Beautiful in the Mind is a reason why.//

The Cave (Winner of The Bitter Oleander Press Library of Poetry Book Award for 2013.)

The Cave

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