cover image Dark Horses: New Poems

Dark Horses: New Poems

X. J. Kennedy. Johns Hopkins University Press, $0 (88pp) ISBN 978-0-8018-4484-3

Kennedy, a prototype for many ``new formalist'' poets, is a painstaking craftsman whose work straddles that thin line between verse and poetry. At his weakest, he writes incidental poems commemorating late-night phone calls or a town dump. He's capable of trivializing serious subjects, as in a poem recalling the start of the Gulf war or in one creating humorous epigraphs for a graveyard. He delights in mocking contemporary contrivances: an Emily Dickinson poem is reworked to center on an answering machine; an empty house is programmed to ``exude / Ninety minutes of Mozart on tape.'' At his sharpest, Kennedy offers a vision that is horrific, recalling James Wright's early work. He writes of finding a severed arm on the beach and of a lonely woman soaking dentures in Creme de Menthe. Watching his four-year-old son's hesitations at the dinner table, the speaker comments that ``the animals you eat / Leave footprints in your eyes.'' Written in sing-song, nursery-rhyme iambics, his best poems prove that irony need not be frivolous. Kennedy's Nude Descending a Staircase, won the Lamont Award in 1961. (Dec.)