Friday, April 30, 2010



As if Free by Burt Kimmelman
(Talisman House, Jersey City, 2009)

Burt Kimmelman’s book As if Free is the type I just fall into, and by that I mean that once I started reading it, it just felt like I was there with the poet listening. The pieces are smooth and daily, and in that is their insight, for Kimmelman excels at focusing on the details--a spoon sticking out of a coffee cup, a chair slightly turned to the side, a flutter of the sparrow’s wings. And he connects the details to larger issues, such as in “Back in Brooklyn” where we move easily from a coffee shop scene to longing and brief absence:
                  warm weather in every turn of
the head, casual hip and shoulder. I
miss you and Jane.

We drift from a straight scene into something that seems more significant, and his process mirrors the ways in which we jump from thought to thought when alone with ourselves. And really, the book is a working through Kimmelman’s world. While one poem might be based on a painting, the next might be based on a poem, the next on a restaurant scene, the next on nature, and the next on a memory. The pensive nature of the pieces kept me interested, as did the sound of the pieces. Take, for example, “After Robert Creeley,” a poem in which Kimmelman’s short lines and line breaks bring Creeley’s spirit into the poem:
The embrace
is all there
is—what can

be said, all
the things of
this world, are

left behind,
And yet there

are words, words,
which we love.

These brief lines convey a wide array of ideas, from the contingent nature of humans, to the desire for touch, to the way that words touch us, to the way in which a poem can exist in us beyond the material (beyond the things we lose). And more, the poem suggests that Creeley’s poems have touched Kimmelman, and through Kimmelman, they touch us through technique. Interestingly, throughout the book, a reader is able to hear echoes of Creeley, Oppen, and Bronk.

The "nature" pieces struck me the most. They reminded me of Gary Snyder's in that the poet seems to be one who is used to looking at nature--he seems comfortable with what he sees. In “The Cardinal,” we get an everyday glimpse of a cardinal that seems more than everyday:
Red flash and quick chirp
from a branch of the
backyard maple tree

reaching across the
neighbor’s fence, casting
a shade in sunlight—

the cardinal flies
free, flits among the leaves,
suddenly drops down

into the tall grass,
jerks his head this way
and that, hops and turns,

then leaps up into
the green above, no
longer to be seen.

This brief poem follows the movements of the cardinal, but Kimmelman is not compelled to add a commentary on the scene. He doesn’t explain its significance as poets in proper MFA fashion often seem to do. We simply have a brief appearance of a cardinal and then its disappearance. We are left to fill in the significance, if any, ourselves, and I, for one, like to see this piece as symbolic of our brief human condition, but we can enjoy the description and beauty of the alliteration without being pushed for meaning.

With the nature pieces, I imagine Kimmelman as having the sensibility of the high haiku writers. In “Abandoned House,” Kimmelman’s poem reminds me of the special sense of loneliness discussed by Basho:
Thin tendrils of moss,
bright green in the shock
of morning sun across
red brick steps, stand up
straight to touch the light.

This poem works like the great haiku with a leap in thought that the reader is required to bridge. One could imagine similar pieces being written long ago by Saigyo.

Ultimately, this collection is reflective and calls for a meditative response. To me, the experience of reading it was peaceful and welcome.


William Allegrezza edits the e-zine Moria and the press Cracked Slab Books. He has published five books, In the Weaver's Valley, Ladders in July, Fragile Replacements, Collective Instant, and Covering Over; one anthology, The City Visible: Chicago Poetry for the New Century; seven chapbooks, including Sonoluminescence (co-written with Simone Muench) and Filament Sense (Ypolita Press); and many poetry reviews, articles, and poems. He curates series A, a reading series in Chicago dedicated to experimental writing. In addition, he occasionally posts his thoughts at

1 comment:

EILEEN said...

Another view is offered by Jim Tolan in GR #16 at