Hearts Amok: a memoir in verse
Anvil Press, 2020
One of the first featured questions that pops up on Google when you search "memoir" is: What exactly makes a memoir a memoir? You probably have an answer swelling in your head already, something about truth, real-life stories, and autobiography. This is mostly correct, in my experience. But in the case of Hearts Amok, the newest book of poetry from Kevin Spenst, a memoir in verse is another thing entirely. It would be a mistake to assume the speaker in these poems is 100% the author. Spenst's choice of the sonnet is interesting as a historical touchstone. He contrasts demanding structures with lexical exuberance, almost daring the words to bust apart the metre that contains them. This is familiar terrain for those who have heard Spenst perform, his whisper to operatic vibrato likely to scare the unprepared out of their folding chairs, no microphone required. The book is as much a memoir in the voice of the sonnet as it is a memoir in the voice of "Kevin Spenst." And this is to say nothing of the tendency in both memoir and poetry to creatively edit facts in an attempt to make them better suit constructed narratives. Or how the act of metaphor fundamentally alters the sense of what "truth" is.
For the poet as reader (as I am), it's the fantastic collection that prompts not a thought in the mode of prose, but the thought as a poem. In that spirit I offer:
Hearts Amok: a book review in verse
for Kevin Spenst
Is that you in the poems, hobo for love?
Memoir peeks from behind the sonnet.
Take the poet out of Surrey, tho
still hear Fraser Highway on their tongue.
How much Spenst in the character “Kevin”?
I couldn’t translate the tramp at first read –
stitches sew fragments into verse heart,
Dedalus super-form of walking thot.
Are we doomed? Every speaker is a flight
story, winged bard in blood and feather.
This lonely job here carving windchimes
knee-deep in the emotional rushes.
Let movies shoot the sentimental stuff.
Metaphor is a price deferred with honey.