“It was complicated digging the tunnels under the Poetry Foundation.” So opens “The Gunpowder Plot,” Kent Johnson’s hilarious deadpan recasting of the infamous Guy Fawkes failed bombing of the House of Lords in 1605 into the current day, with the intended target being the Poetry Foundation’s newly remodeled downtown Chicago digs post benefactor Ruth Lily’s sumptuous bequest drawn from her family’s pharmacological-based vast wealth. Though in Kent’s updated version Guy Fawkes doesn’t fail, but rather succeeds:
Blowing himself to the heavens for the sake of poetry’s sovereignty.
From the insidious creeping of Capital, the State, and the general economy of.
The culture industry, which hath come to invade almost fucking everything.
The explosion was tremendous, shaking the whole Field to its cowardly core.
Hooray! Poetry is alive and well in Kent’s masterful hands. Every poet under forty (and most of those over forty as well) should be reading this book. Kent is the poet-hero our age is in dire need of. Bravely facing off against corporate and academic villains dead-set on corrupting the art for the benefit of their ill-begotten rewards and literary fame, Kent is All Heart and his is one of Pure Poetry. Kent’s not up for taking any shit from anybody. He’s even been known to get after himself, at times.
Because of Poetry, I have a Really Big House is chock full of Kent’s delicious vitriol for the Powers-That-Be in Poetry World—and don’t you doubt for a second that there aren’t indeed such kooks in charge of the machinery overseeing our would-be free ranging poetic meanderings. Yes, we all want to just write poems be famous get along and win some awards pocketing cash faster than a rabbit hops, but be assured that you do always gotta serve somebody (Dylan ain’t kiddin around with that song).
Poetry has always been a moral art but Kent ushers his work in upon a newly refreshed lust for taking full measure of the current desultory state of affairs. It’s not very encouraging to have the situation called out so nakedly: “what unkind, impolite, | and self-involved people they are, the poets, mainly out | for themselves and their ‘poetry careers,’ and the bigger | their vitas become, the more unpleasant they get.” (“Poetry Will Save Your Life”) Yet it’s hard to imagine any more accurate a description for a vast number of the Lives of Poets these days.
The Poetry Establishment types Kent critiques aren’t only big-time East Coast/University types either, he goes after those poets celebrated in the small press world with equal flair: “Here come | two young poets with books from Wave, drawn in a | cart by J. Spicer and J. Kyger. The poet-horses have | gold bits clenched in their foamy mouths. The cart- | poets whip them, again and again. Why? Why?” (“Outside a Dusty Southern Town, I Pause and Write a Great Poem, Thinking of the Great Departed Poet, Ch’iu Chin”) Not exactly fair! You might scream. Or I might. After all, admittedly, I myself have friends published by Wave. I’ve written some pretty much rave reviews of Wave titles. I certainly wouldn’t mind having a book myself on Wave. And, truth be told, yeah, of course I most definitely have enquired via back channels! To no avail, as of yet anyways. (Also, hell yeah I’ve been paid in hard cash for my writing by the Poetry Foundation. Give me the money, honey.)
These are among the various sort of common doldrums regularly encountered when venturing out and about in Poetry World that Kent manages to churn out some pretty damn terrific poems from. Not only are they funny. They are actually funny, hold your belly laugh out loud funny at points. They’re also quite sharp formally. So sharp I don’t possess the requisite knowledge to undertake a full inventory of all the poetic forms Kent tackles here. I assure you they all read excellently well. Kent can rhyme! With the best of them. He’s a natural born formalist who has been hiding in the cloak closet of underserved stellar Latin and South American poetas all these years. Turns out this community college hack of a professor has been successfully summoning phenomenal forces of poetry all this time. A gloriously bacchanalian beast of verse. Come on chancellors, give him that Wallace Stevens Award!!!