Reading Grabois feels old school. Nonetheless, the poems in The Arrest of Mr. Kissy Face are very much of 2019. This blending of simple, narrative poetry with modern themes and reckonings makes for compulsive reading.
Wringing Philosophy From Darkness
While at times strange, irreverent, and even whimsical in their narrative building blocks, these poems don’t make the reader work to gather their meaning. Instead of a well, these poems are a garden. You get what you see, though this is hardly a knock on Grabois’ poetry. What you see is visceral and emotional, wringing philosophy from the darkest moments of existence. The opening poem “Birds” explores a community’s response to wind turbines, eventually sliding into a meditation on the narrator’s relationship to his community and death.
“I grew up here
lived here all my life
but I never knew the place
‘like the back of my hand’
until I followed Death around.”
These simply told poems are beautiful and gritty in equal measure. Grabois is able to shift with ease from such heartfelt lines like “The pain wasn’t mine / but that didn’t make it / any easier” to a rumination on an overbearing parent: “There was no sink or swim there was only swim.” For all the hardship and ache in this collection, Grabois keeps his tongue in his cheek, his optimism not erased by years of existence on an often-cold planet. The writing reminds me of Bukowski on multiple occasions. But thankfully, none of Bukowski’s less enjoyable traits appears, leaving Grabois as a positive evolution of Bukowski’s direct, prosey style.
“A Hard Drizzle’s Gonna Fall” stands out as a marker of what this kind of poetry can accomplish when Grabois winds a poem about a character named Uncle Clarence alongside Woody Guthrie lyrics. It is a joy to read such unself-conscious poetry that revels in its simplicity and the quirks it is able to accommodate as a result. “One Universe Too Many” begins with the haymaker “The alternative universe / in which you’re not a colossal disappointment, / where is it?” Shortly thereafter, Grabois again wears death’s thematic shroud when he has a character make the following note of her environment: “Out the door of the funeral home / she saw the sun sparkle on the sea / which suggested to her that death was irrelevant.” And finally in “Ansel”, told from the perspective of Ansel Adams, Grabois has him say, “When images become inadequate / I shall be content with silence.”
Grabois’ poetry feels eager, childlike in that its directness and unabashed presentation look for connection at every turn. He does not give the reader a mountain, but a hill, one whose climb is easy, but whose apex has such a wide view of humanity that to finish this collection is to be reminded of why words, why storytelling exist in the first place.
The Arrest of Mr. Kissy Face is published by Pski’s Porch.