Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Today's book of poetry:
Heart in a Jar.   Kathleen McGookey.  White Pine Press.  Buffalo, New York.  2017.

Reading Heart in a Jar is like stumbling onto a lost manuscript of Charlotte's Web if it had been written by a dark and hallucinating Hieronymus Bosch or perhaps a time travelling Pieter Bruegel reincarnated as a poet.

Kathleen McGookey's poems do an instant connect with a part of your brain you'd previously been unaware of.  Your body jolts a little with new electricity running new circuits.  

Today's book of poetry is genuinely unsure of how to tell you patient readers about Kathleen McGookey's particular genius.  Today's book of poetry is convinced that McGookey has tapped into a deeper well than most and these short prose poems prove it time and again.  These aren't fairy tales or folk stories but given time they may become those to another generation.

Like His Heart in a Jar

The dead cat, stolen from Biology, showed up in my locker. Black-
haired Joe, who wanted to be my boyfriend, who sometimes gave
me rides in his father's Cadillac, put it there. You'd think it would
have been terrible, skinny toad-colored thing dangling from my coat
hook, but it didn't stink or drip. After Calculus, it was gone.


Strange magic abounds in Heart in a Jar.  Kathleen McGookey's poems inhabit a world where talismans teem and we are left to intuit their meaning.  These poems occur in a macabre and splendid universe that feels familiar, as though it were a place we all visited in our dreams.

Death seems to be around every corner wearing a "ratty robe and slippers" but McGookey has her eyes wide open, she sees Death coming and calls his bluff.

Dear Death,

can't you see we're busy riding bikes in the sun? Later we'll cut out
paper hearts and sprinkle them with glitter. I have had enough of
you. I'd rather learn facts about penguins: what they eat, how much
they weigh, how they stay warm in the Antarctic. Some are called
Emperor. Some, Rockhopper. First-graders with gap-toothed smiles
hold out the class guinea pig for me to pet. Let's pretend you forget
all about us.


The poems in Heart in a Jar were perfect for a good morning read, short, sharp and savvy.  Death is in there dancing up a shit-storm but McGookey isn't without hope, the characters that inhabit her poems are not without resources.

Gary Young, author of Even So, called Kathleen McGookey's Heart in a Jar "a rapturous Memento mori."  Today's book of poetry had to look that up; a memento mori is "an object serving as a warning or reminder of death, such as a skull."  The translation from Latin is "remember that you have to die." Mr. Young is right, McGookey is constant in reminding us that the Dark Angel is always nearby, that she does so with such charming intrigue and invention is why we are here.

Kathleen McGookey can burn in any kitchen.


I'd like to talk about something else for a change, like that small blue
frog, which, if licked, kills whatever licked it. The frog might be an-
other color. You might have to eat it to die. But I know I've got the
killing part right. Once, I had patience. Once, I had my own room.
I didn't have sisters. I didn't have roosters. I'd like to know who said
I have wasted my life. And was it true? When I lay my head upon my
desk, something inside me--a shadow, a ghost?--tries to sit up. Its
outline washes through me, like certain medications. I like not dis-
cussing certain subjects. I like going to the orchard to pick fresh
peaches. I like the idea of a different life. But that's what I thought
years ago, imagining this one.


Kathleen McGookey says some harsh things in Heart in a Jar, some of them fearless, almost all instantly recognizable to the heart as true or true feeling.  You get the impression that McGookey could pound out this particular type of perfection all day long.

Heart in a Jar is so much better than I've been able to express, you can trust that.

Image result for kathleen mcgookey photo
Kathleen McGookey

Kathleen McGookey’s prose poems and translations have appeared in many journals and anthologies, including Crazyhorse, Denver Quarterly, Epoch, Field, Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, Quarterly West, The Best of The Prose Poem: An International Journal, The Party Train: A Collection of North American Prose Poetry, and The House of Your Dream: An International Collection of Prose Poetry. The forthcoming anthology Nothing to Declare: A Guide to the Flash Sequence includes her work, and her poetry collection, At the Zoo, will be published by White Pine Press in spring 2017. She has received grants from the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation, the Arts Fund of Kalamazoo County, the Sustainable Arts Foundation, and the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She has taught creative writing at Hope College, Interlochen Arts Academy, and Western Michigan University. She lives in Middleville, Michigan, with her family.

Letters to Death
Letters to Death by Kathleen McGookey
Music by Josh Trentadue (speaker and piano)
Steven Murtonen, percussion



Poems cited here are assumed to be under copyright by the poet and/or publisher.  They are shown here for publicity and review purposes.  For any other kind of re-use of these poems, please contact the listed publishers for permission.

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