JOHN MCKERNAN: RESURRECTION OF THE DUST
The Backwaters Press
3502 North 52nd Street
ISBN 0 9785782 5 2
Web design by
This page last updated: 13th October 2008.
|JOHN MCKERNAN: RESURRECTION OF THE DUST|
John McKernan's poetry has all the hallmarks of the American way of making poetry. Expect scattered line-breaks (using the space-key), seemingly random use of capital letters, one-word statements. No punctuation to spoil the flow. Two-line spaces between lines. Titles that can go on for five lines,eg
THE BOTANY PROFESSOR CONFRONTS THE WRECKAGE OF HIS LIFE & WRITES A LETTER TO THE ORAL ROBERTS UNIVERSITY POETRY CLUBDECLINING AN INVITATION TO READ SEVERAL THOUSAND OF HIS TEN MILLION HEROIC COUPLETSOh, and ampersands instead of prosaic 'and', as in —
THE MAN Who taught me The idea of Riemann's geometry & Calculus II Went To prison yesterday For grand theft & tax evasion & More than a few questions About wife number three & Four unknown childrenClose reading countdown of reoccurring words brings out: death 45+ ; father 37+; mother 24; corpse 7; coffin 7; Omaha 33; Nebraska 16; snow 8; Ireland 9; grave 4; funeral supplies 1; mortuary 1; suicide 2. And "Sundial", — an inexplicable 18 mentions.
While he can go in for details like a Pre-Raphaelite there is still a sense that something is withheld, hidden from us. Thought as mosaic- don't stand too near; it makes sense further away as the fragments assemble again into a coherent picture. He is one of those writers who make the reader do half the work. Some will walk away, puzzled, unsatisfied. It takes a third and fourth reading to excavate the meaning. Behind all this is the death of his father when the writer was sixteen:
LEG OF A MONARCH BUTTERFLY You return again Like the needle of a compass Or An accusing finger Cursing me Blaming me always For the death Of my fatherAnd in an extract from POEM FOR DON McNEILL, he takes us nearer, with –
What good is a poem? Mother will never tell me My father is dying She'd have to tell herself first Lies are a little bit like the coloured sandIn CODED MESSAGE is the definitive poem of this entire 223 page book—
I was Quiet as floor shadow Silent as a quart of black paint Still as a bottle of India ink I have never left that room—Not onceThe next page has THE CORPSE GIVES ITSELF AWAY, followed by CORPSE THEORY. John McKernan has also been deeply affected by his brother's suicide, followed by his own job in a mortuary— there is no escape from the subject. Even when planting a tree, a hopeful action, there is mention of a coffin
PLANTING RED MAPLE SAPLINGS When I open the earth wide with my spade Into a soft coffin of air& Pour shredded leaves humus clay & A broth of watered muck about the rootsThere is a great amount of grief in this book, which is not deflected by a delicate humour here and there. At times it reads like a heart-rending piece from Tennesee Williams. A further collection, moving on, would perhaps widen the subject-matter, bringing in more chances of development and experiment. I question the placing of all the 172 poems in merely alphabetical order- they could have been presented in timescale or themes, giving more strength and dignity.
|reviewer: Pat Jourdan.|