Saturday, May 24, 2014

Review of Mike Krutel's "Best Poems," by Barrett Warner

Some are dreamers and some are architects. Mike Krutel’s debut chapbook Best Poems puts him squarely in the dreamer camp. I wish he had more company to keep the bed warm. Instead he has insomnia. “Tonight is the night of no sleep” he asserts in the first poem, “Best,” before using images to draw us inside: “Cannonballs over the playground. / The cat rubs a glass frame off the mantle.” We know the glass shatters, but Krutel doesn’t let us hear it. The insomnia is not about the noises.

The key moment in the poem is a release of information, rather than action: “I am holding these individually wrapped letters,” and what emerges is two people, one wanting to know and feel without “authorization,” and the other wanting to disassociate from a moment she’s nonetheless in charge of. As the speaker says, “I make swift turns in an ocean I am always made / to ride beneath.” He is in control of his own out-of-control state and usually that’s enough, but not if he wants to sleep.

The wanting and the knowing and even the playful drowning are what all the messiness of life is about. Perhaps this is why Krutel produces a vacuum cleaner in his poem “Best Disaster.” The speaker chants, in a “stupid” duet with the “television wonderful.” He feels minimal, “turning my particles inside out” and “like I am coasting / nothing, broken fuselage of air turning into a downpour” yet he longs to matter, to celebrate, “get big with occurrence.” He even uses divine eloquence: “Where art thou really from, Billboard? You chanting / attraction?”

Maybe because his titles lean towards the abstract, Krutel’s first lines are often assertions. Some feel like self-induced prompts such as “Every gesture gets a little more difficult” in “Best Exotic,” but others are more concrete. Clarity seems to really matter to Krutel, at least for the first couple of lines, and in this way he gaily ushers the movement from the known, to the unknown. Krutel adores these edges and for him poetry is what turns our mundane details into prayer. He writes in “Best Defense of Everything” [lines 9-15]:

Like, right now, I keep adjusting this manual.

I never feel ready to cut the grass or take a pill.

You led away with a mind of alternative

compensations for happiness. What a trick!

“Who cares,” said a great

audience member, “We’re all so busy writing

these letters to God.”
The earlier poems in the collection set rules which Krutel doesn’t mind breaking here and there. The reader is more than ready by now to handle the beauty of a poem like “Best Exit” in which Krutel uses electric imagery to contrast a basically passive speaker—it’s just Hell these things happening to him, and in couplets to boot—and finds his way to a very deft ending: “I wear a blindfold / to be with the dead, touch the suite // of your face, put my lips to / the edge of your noise.” There’s that faintly shaded line again between the known and unknown. In “Best Time We Are in a Cloud, Jessica,” Krutel paints a picture of Earth in Heaven rather than Heaven on Earth. There are even assemblies, winged folk, and “The New Wave / never gets any older” [19-28]:

…You, beautiful

in your unassuming. I ask you

to get a little closer.

We’ve already given up

on distances and times

having come this far. The trick

has always been an eye kept on

the coming floods of light

as we steer our bodies

into an impossible navigation.
There are echoes of Margaret Atwood in here when Krutel divines alienation and technology (“There are attempts to remove the neck without touching / anything of the torso or the head”), and even a little Beckett to give the reader a place to rest in lines like “You step out from the shower and can’t stop sweating.”

Best Poems is brief, but it’s not a casual read. These poems inform each other. In “Best Power Available” Krutel writes “A dresser drawer functions on the surprise element. / There is a unit, then suddenly another” while in “Best Hotel at the Beginning of the World” the chest of drawers has grown to an armoire: “We crawled into the oversized cabinetry / to make love.”

Krutel takes some risks in these poems, by using spare or ambiguous spatial markers. What’s more, no one in these poems seems to be wearing a watch. It’s like the day to day journal of a poet with no understanding of Tuesday, or Friday—nor does he need one—in his “reassembly of everything / different from everything.” The most important contribution this little book makes is to show us that we don’t have to incessantly rely on context to establish clarity. There’s a shortcut to essence, Krutel seems to be saying, and it goes through Cincinnati.

Best Poems, by Mike Krutel, (2013, Narrow House, an imprint of Big Lucks and Publishing Genius, 24 pages, $10)