Reading with Crystal Williams at Powell's on Hawthorne, 3723 SE Hawthorne, Mon, 7:30 pm
I picked up Casey Kwang's new poetry collection, Copia, when it came through my door because I was interested in the new publisher attached to it, Pinball. I was immediately intrigued by Kwang's straightforward approach to the craft: "I met this beautiful woman over a year ago / & I still think about her / I wish I hadn't gotten drunk that night / I wish I didn't grind up on her like I do my molars" he writes in My Xiotany.
Kwang has a gift for converting complex webs of emotion and history into little verse vignettes like that one. In 100 Goldfish, he climbs into a bathtub full of goldfish and writes: "This is the sensation I miss / that feeling / of fish / flapping their fins / all over my body like eyelashes / this is what love feels like." In Oven Mitt, he analyzes his relationship with his dad through the lens of a summer barbecue: "he is eager to be my father / & I adore him / because he'll talk to me / & hug me / with the oven mitt still on." In Cotton, he writes of seeing his lover naked: "If you sliced me open / I would bleed reptiles because it aches so beautifully."
These gorgeous images are listed, arranged rigidly across the page with what appears to be little attention to rhythm or meter. The result is deceptively poetic; unique in its simplicity, and refreshing in its refusal to sugarcoat. Kwang wants to talk about everything: his loves, his losses, his family, his struggles with drugs and addiction. And he's not going to beat around the bush to do it.
Kwong's intense clarity disoriented me at first. I'm used to lesser poets dip-tripping around with bells and whistles. Kwang wants to connect with you as directly as possible, to make you feel what he felt when he felt that thing he felt so hard. And whether he connects with you right off the bat, or after twenty poems, in the end, a deep and powerful connection will be made. Kwang changed the way I look at poetry, allowed me to see it as a cumulative process wherein the sum of the parts hits you harder than the individual pieces. Kwang is a complicated character; a passionate lover and brilliant with language, but troubled by a history of substance abuse and a tentative relationship with his real parents, who gave him up for adoption when he was a baby.
Kwang is still young. He's not yet thirty, which is an incredible thing. It's incredible because he has the wisdom and experience of a much older man. It's also incredible how perfectly conveyed that tragicomic dichotomy of premature maturity is conveyed in his poetry. JUSTIN SANDERS