Saturday, July 26, 2008

Bird's Horn & Other Poems by Kevin Rabas

Book Review by Zinta Aistars

· Paperback: 51 pages
· Publisher: Coal City Review Press, 2007
· Price: $10.00
· ISBN-10: 0979584418
· ISBN-13: 978-0979584411

As Dan Jaffe writes in his introduction to Kevin Rabas’ poetry, “There is no art that does not in some way reflect the character and personality of the artist.” The more willing the writer to look unflinchingly into his or her own reflection, the more powerful the resulting work. Anything less remains in the realm of technical skill. The art comes when the artist has the courage to face demons … and an angel now and then.

Kevin Rabas has looked keenly into that mirror. It’s not always a pretty thing to see. This collection is marked by inconsistency, one poem a sound masterpiece, the next a flat note. But the scales weigh heavily in favor of word-music, and most of this collection is just that: words that convey rhythm and sound, an interpretation of music into verse and back again. The poet is, in fact, a jazz musician, and the transition between word and musical note is, all in all, seamless … or shall we say, rarely misses a beat?

Perhaps the highest note of the collection comes early on, in “Night Shirts That Shimmer to Dinner.” Rabas combines jazz with the heart-searing pain of divorce, the stunning realization that a lost partner has actually lived a full life after a shared path has long forked in two. One feels the thrum of the music while reading. One feels the ache. The shock.

And when the annulment papers came in the mail,
no word from her in years, I knew she must’ve lived and lived and lived

on the blocks I once wandered and walked and knew, danced with the men
in the clubs, or danced while they played in the background, floated

dollar bills across bars to other friends, had talks with musicians…

…where music moves in the building as blood moves in the body,
and women can dance however they damn well please, and a man can
stand up and know

any damn thing his spirit can muster, can know the chord changes with
his heart,
can know the bar top and the saxophone face, and the drumhead, and the
cymbal dish,

and the touch of brushes when they are new, cat paw on Spanish tile quick,
delicate as the teardrops the sensitive get on the heart finger, the ring
finger, mine.

Take a deep breath here, savor. I had to. When you come across a poem that resonant, you almost don’t want to read anymore. Just linger in the fine pitch of that moment and let it rock you.

But do. Read on. Rabas has much more to say. He brings us into the world of a jazz musician, but he also brings us into the heartaches and heartbreaks of life as all of us who dare to live know it. He lets us witness the small joys that make up a greater happiness in a life well lived, capturing greater meanings in such simple scenes as of a new father playing catch with his small son, learning how to lob a ball soft and easy so the little guy can catch it—and in that act showing that love is all about releasing oneself as center of the universe and putting the other at center. Rabas has achieved as much in his poetry. In his best works, he has had the courage to reveal his innermost self, yet made us, his readers, feel that it is our core that he has recognized and acknowledged.

Kevin Rabas teaches creative writing and literature at Emporia State University. He co-edits Flint Hills Review and writes for Jazz Ambassador Magazine (JAM). He is winner of a Langston Hughes Award for Poetry and other awards.


Andrew Christ said...

Zinta, I like your comment "In his best works, he has had the courage to reveal his innermost self, yet made us, his readers, feel that it is our core that he has recognized and acknowledged."

Andrew Christ said...

If you haven't considered sending your reviews to, you might want to. I don't work for them but I have met the webmaster.