When teaching poetry, I often notice students’ interest in writing long, winding narrative poems. I teach a variety of forms, but ultimately allow them creative freedom when composing their own poem. Inevitably, the majority choose a form of their own invention, a lengthy narrative structure where they breathlessly describe a breakup, a childhood memory, or a trauma of some kind. They want to tell their stories, and they seem to find solace in this malleable structure.
I read these poems with interest. After all, it is a common experience to have memories that won’t stay put in a single neat, delineated description, experiences that seep into the rest of our lives, coloring every experience and changing our perspectives.
Edgar Kunz, in his recent poetry collection, Tap Out, has a similar eagerness for telling his story, letting the narrative seep slowly from one poem to the next, repeating characters, events, and images. The strength of this method is that it allows Kunz to emphasize the memories which provide a sort of structure to his life. For example, a childhood friend, Daryl, shoots himself, and this memory reverberates throughout the entire collection. Sometimes Daryl is simply, “Mikes brother Daryl,” other times he is a loudmouthed kid trying to impress girls, bragging about girls. But this memory, “The way your brother Daryl took himself out of the world,” is the vital cord to these other memories of this character.
There are some weaknesses in this collection. Poems like “Dry Season,” patch past experiences with the narrator’s current travels and the pastoral elk watching in Colorado. The poem is trying to tell us a story, but it is lost in the patchwork of its own images.
Kunz’s overall vision of these poems emphasize the tragedy belonging to place, to one’s origins, of regional experiences that ring out beyond their seemingly humble roots. The poems sing with clarity.
Thank you to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Mariner Books and NetGalley for the advance copy of this title.
Tap Out by Edgar Kunz
Poetry – Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Mariner Books – Publication date 5 March 2019