While Eating Oysters by Kit Kennedy, CLWN WR BKS, Brooklyn, 2012
Reviewed by CINDY HOCHMAN
As someone who stands 4’11”, I have a vested interest in the proposition that “good things come in small packages.” After reading Kit Kennedy’s bite-sized and provocatively titled book, While Eating Oysters, there is even more reason to appreciate all things diminutive. In the same way that fine restaurants serve small portions, Kennedy’s poems, written from the perspective of a creative gourmand, are elegant, flavorful, and satisfying. Kennedy writes for an intelligent audience, adding just the right amount of Tabasco to give this meal a robust kick.
in French, everything sounds like an invitation
Beckoning us to enter, we become guests at Kennedy’s well-planned dinner party. It is easy to envision the intimate candlelight, tempting smells, and warm atmosphere. Ooh la la—our host has whipped up a memorable feast for us—this poet has brought out the fine china and set the table in grand style. Culinary delights combine with experimental art to create a tempting palette for the discerning palate. (Is your mouth watering yet?)
her body a series of small dishes
. . .
broken & much more interesting
Among the many appealing aspects of this book is that it can be read in one delightful sitting. The format is notable in that it contains just 23 one- or two-line poems, answering the question of whether a brief poem can have the same substance and depth as an epic—and the answer is a resounding YES. And while the poet makes the process look seamless, don’t underestimate the intense labor and precision it takes to write poems of this nature; a form which, pared down to its bare bones, requires every word to count. Kennedy trusts her readers to use their imaginations to infer and interpret according to taste, and one gets the distinct feeling that what is left unsaid is just as vital. It is also a treat to discover that the book can be read several different ways: as individual, abstract non-sequiturs (a la carte, so to speak) that rock the senses; as a cohesive continuum, one poem building upon the next to create a full course; or, for those of us who prefer to eat our desserts first, it can even be read from back to front (don’t forget to wipe your mouth!)
Conservation of verbiage is Kennedy’s forte, as evidenced by this seven-word poem that is no less sensuous (albeit, subtle) than a painting by Georgia O’Keeffe:
I love tulips for their sexy insides
I would be remiss, and this review would be incomplete, if I didn’t, at this juncture, tip my hat to publisher Bob Heman, whose CLWN WR imprimatur has produced attractive, pocket-sized books and journals for over 40 years, giving voice to unconventional poets whose work deserves wide exposure.
Now, far be it from me to be a spoiler here, although I can state with certainty that the final poem will make you come back for a second (and third) helping. But the penultimate poem is no doubt Kit Kennedy’s tribute to the aphrodisiac effects of oysters, poetry, and the simple joy of being:
while eating oysters, only the present is possible
Behind the mystery and hedonistic smolder of While Eating Oysters, there is a quiet grace. These are poems to digest, savor, and read again and, as a poet, ponder the miraculous way in which language steeped in brevity can provide such nourishing sustenance to both body and soul.
Thanks to the unique talent of chief cook and poet extraordinaire, Kit Kennedy,while you eat these oysters, you will be gifted with pearls.
While Eating Oysters by Kit Kennedy, CLWN WR BKS, Brooklyn, 2012. Available directly from author.
Kit Kennedy is also co-author, with Susan Gangel, of Inconvenience (Littoral Press, 2010) and Constellations (Co-Lab Press, 2011). Her work appears in the great weather for MEDIA anthologies It’s Animal but Merciful and The Understanding between Foxes and Light, and in numerous journals including Otoliths and The Pedestal Magazine. Kit lives in San Francisco. Blog
Cindy Hochman is the editor-in-chief of the online journal First Literary Review-East. Her poems may be found, or are forthcoming, in New York Quarterly, CLWN WR, and the Cancer Project Anthology. Her latest chapbook is The Carcinogenic Bride.