Review of & (Amy Kinsman)

& explores what it means to be human through the guise of how weaponized our bodies are, of how we wield blades that we might turn on another or turn against ourselves. This is a collection that seems to swallow itself before allowing the reader to watch the words through every step of a transparent digestion. And while such a tactic might prove disgusting in the hands of a lesser poet, under Kinsman’s inimitable structure and language, this collection soars, becomes a delicious morsel to chew for ages.

The Edge of Accident

The character(s) in these poems seem always on the verge of spinning out of control, such as in “pursuit” where it goes “our wheels are gliding on the slick of a black tongue.” The beauty here blossoms from how Kinsman’s characters are brought to the edge of accident and we, as readers from an intimate vantage, are left to decide the outcome. We see the inevitable convergence, the intricate strangling of alternate universes. We know where it all leads and we suddenly become aware of how it actually might be us perched at the edge of disaster. All this time we were just watching the conflict in ourselves.

It is to Kinsman’s credit that I found myself in so many of these poems. For poems strike best and truest when they raise a mirror. She dissects the truth of how a person might come apart at the seams yet this butterfly is all the more glorious for all its exposed parts, especially in a line like “you must know… / that every ticking minute you claim is a stolen one of mine.”

A Series of Iterations

The two longest pieces in & (“it’s like this” and “iterations of self”) are also its best, like bodies the rest of the pieces cling to and enhance, a corporeal word behemoth hung with the finest accouterments. Her structuring in each is flawless, a textbook demonstration of how to craft a pulsing, explosive prose poem finer than most short fiction in its storytelling and emotional grip. As any exploration of self might, the poem “iterations of self” asks questions and, like the best poems, gives half an answer. For example, when the line “how long have I been eating myself?” is followed shortly after by the sixth iteration subtitled “self as vanity” when Kinsman says, “they name you for love and the only thing you love is the sound of your own damn voice.” And later, the twelfth iteration asks “who are we that demand understanding?” followed by the reflective lightning bolt, “this time i want to stand. this time i want it enough.”

Conclusion

As Kinsman’s characters scramble for understanding, to be understood by themselves, I attempt to keep up and gather as many berries as I might without spilling my basket. Perhaps the most beautiful thing I aim to find in reading poetry is a human behind the poems, running through them. I don’t need answers; I don’t need conclusions. But I savor vulnerability, an indelicate verbiage willing to give me a mirror, make me hold it long enough to find something unsettling, just like it requires a mirror for itself. Kinsman accomplishes that with astonishing grace. Her next collection can’t come soon enough where I’m concerned.

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