cover image Punks: New & Selected Poems

Punks: New & Selected Poems

John Keene. The Song Cave, $20 trade paper (234p) ISBN 978-1-73727-752-1

Divided into seven sections that span the writer’s career, this brilliant, expansive collection offers panoramic insight into Keene’s work. As the book’s dedication (“in tribute/ to all of the writers/ who never lived to see/ their words and lives/ remembered and celebrated”) suggests, Keene conjures a cast of characters and voices that celebrate Blackness, queer identity, art, and survival. These poems are full of reflections on the past (“This sweet rustling between the ears, like candy/ wrappers falling to the floor: memories”), which Keene makes both historically evocative and sonically alive on the page: “All the arrogant boys/ who recalled nothing of Scollay Square and the days/ when knees touching indoors could land you// in jail,” he writes in “Playland.” In the four-page poem “Underground,” Keene declares: “The world is suffering/ a metabolic disorder./ What are you writing about?/ Nothing and everything at once.” The poem ends by movingly asserting that “the art lies in the fight/ and the scars./ This is the sound of the weather/ that we live in./ Life at the end of the beginning of the world./ A song we sing as hard as we live./ Listen.” This powerful book is brimming with energy and memorably phrased insights. (Dec.)