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News from Kirbyville
News from Kirbyville

The House on Boulevard St., New and Selected Poems by David Kirby: Louisiana State University Press, 2007, 153 pages, $18.95

Now onto 30 years, David Kirby, FSU's Robert O. Lawton professor of English, has been writing poems that produce unusual effects. They make you, well, laugh. Smile. Feel happy. As if you're with a friend who's witty, really smart (like the smartest kid in class who, somehow, is also a nice guy) . . . sort of a smartass, yeah, but self-aware, for sure, reasonably humble and really good at telling funny stories.

Wait a minute, you say, we're talking about poetry—solemn, serious stuff. Think again. This is poetry in the land of Kirby, almost a whole 'nother place.

You can catch the drift in "At the Grave of Harold Goldstein," which doesn't sound like a comic title, but that's Kirby, tweaking your expectations. It's the usual Kirby first-person meander, the transitions of which leave you gasping, not because you get lost but because they take you so effortlessly from the graveside funeral of someone you don't know to recollections of a dead friend to misspent, riotous youth to aesthetics to Woody Allen's Stardust Memories, in which space aliens visit Earth and tell Allen "if he really wants to serve humanity,/he should tell funnier jokes—wait, that's my duty,/I think, that's my public duty!"

Kirby has lived in Paris (the middle section of the new book represents this sojourn), and his "memory poems" (as he calls these first-person poems of long lines and sawtooth edges) bear the influence of French surrealism. They create, when they work well, a light-headed sense of "the marvelous"—as Andre Breton, the inventor of surrealism, defined it.

If Kirby sins, it's in the "you had to be there" effect of some of the best jokes—the run-on tangential-ness of these narratives isn't for everyone and you do have to be in the mood. Ironically, he can make you ask, "Where's the neurosis?" If neurosis is the source of creativity, as Freud famously claimed, you'll search long to find it in the land of Kirby.

—Michael Schneider


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