Sunday, January 12, 2014



Grey Beret by Jim Knowles
(Blurb, 2012)

Heady and breezy at the same time Jim Knowles constructs his poems not only out of the basic raw materials of grammar but the knowing sweat of working a day job.  Poetry is made by and through the exigencies of early 21st century life as it is lived in the eastern part of the U.S.

For example, ask Knowles about his life and Knowles will reply with this poem.

                        These Days

                        These days?
                        I can’t complain.

                        What I mean is. . .
                        I wouldn’t dare.

                        Not these days.

I gather these non-complaints are not only vested in emotional valances of human relationships but are, I think, rooted also in the economy after the crash of 2008.  For to be gainfully employed after the crash is considered by some to be quite lucky.  Take for example this poem about pending lay-offs when “[t]here is a certain silence when/a layoff is imminent in the office,/like that thick empty moment/when a hammer swings down” (‘Just Before“).  Knowles captures that fear perfectly in this piece.

Still, not all is gloomy.  Knowles has a terrific sense of humor but beware if you go Christmas shopping with him.   His dry humor is liable to turn into a short essay on existential poetics.

                        Existential Season

                        I was Xmas shopping with my wife.
                        The downtown was roped off,
                        and they kept the stores open late.
                        There were twinkling lights and
                        jolly music.

                        I saw a cute plaque in a gift shop.
                        Words to the effect that aiming for
                        the Moon and missing lands you
                        among the stars.

                        I said, not really
                         . . .you would suffocate
                        and freeze solid
                        and drift for millions of years,
                        beautifully and gracefully,
                        yet unnoticed,
                        and plunge into a Sun.
                        somewhere and burn to ash.
                        Still in complete anonymity, of course.

                        She said the analogy doesn’t go that far.
                        I said you don’t know many poets.

I couldn’t help but quote the poem in full for it is an ars poetica of sorts.  Seemingly prosaic in its literal description of a body floating in space the poem then sings of a “beautifully and gracefully” orbit that is “yet unnoticed” by the indifferent universe.  Much like song, or poetry, or the vivacity of a single human life.  Rather than finding that news depressing I see a loveliness in it.  There is beauty and grace because our human presence is evanescent yet irradiated with light.  The Sun will turn us into ash despite our anonymity but we are illuminated by our flight even if for a brief moment. 

Quixotic, rueful and yet beautiful Jim Knowles has written a book of bracing poems.  The photo on the cover is a portrait of the poet in shades and wearing, if we are to take the caption that concludes the poet’s bio at the end of the book at its word, a “Buckwheat pancake.”  Funny and serious Knowles is a guy that I, echoing the great Bill Murray in the film Stripes [1981], want to party with. 


richard lopez is still alive, reading and writing.  his last chapbook was hallucinating california co-authored with jonathan hayes.  his next chapbook will be something else. 

1 comment:

  1. Yes, it's true. This man is wearing a buckwheat pancake. It's also true that Grey Beret is an amazing collection from a poet who started out great and just keeps getting better.