Popular Music

Kelly Schirmann. Black Ocean (SPD, dist.), $14.95 trade paper (159p) ISBN 978-1-939568-15-1
In this generous mixed-form debut, poet and musician Schirmann sings and ponders singing, using the book as a medium of both expression and inquiry. The collection's prose sections define terms and fill in backstory to contextualize the verse sections. The opening essay, for example, earnestly describes Schirmann's "several theories" about "what, exactly, music is," and a later section recalls the summer she lived on a farm and obsessively watched Martin Scorsese's concert film, The Last Waltz. The book's alternating verse sequences are more traditionally lyrical than the exploratory prose, making room for "the meager thoughts/ that crop up in between," like "Weeds coming up through the concrete/ that we are taught to eradicate/ That would destroy us if we did." If her deadpan delivery feels familiar, it's because Schirmann is writing minor-key anthems: her sharp eye and keen ear capture something of this era where "We go to the river together/ on the Internet/ every day." Early in the collection, she writes "I don't know if music is honorable, but I do think it is a gift." Indeed, as Schirmann gives her feelings social and political dimensions, her work often feels like a gift, where each poem "offers its I like an outstretched hand." (May)
Reviewed on: 09/05/2016
Release date: 05/01/2016
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