So Late to the Party. Kate Angus. Negative Capability Press. Mobile, Alabama. 2016.
Ben Folds Five
Yes, I want to be Kate. If Today's book of poetry knew I could write poems like Kate Angus seems to do on demand I would happily be Kate. Today's book of poetry is hoping Kate Angus will forgive today's playful Ben Folds Five intro, in truth we know absolutely nothing about Kate Angus except what we learn from So Late to the Party.
And what do we learn? There is a fresh taste in the mouth after reading So Late to the Party. The poems in this collection are so consistently at exactly the right temperature for consumption, you could almost be suspicious about how Kate cooks.
So Late to the Party opens with an epigraph from Jack Spicer. Spicer is sometimes considered a precursor to the "language poets" but Angus isn't a disciple, just an admirer. And then we are in Angus world, a world not much different than your own, but inhabited by hyper-sentient Angus
Is The World a Terrible Place?
The world is a terrible place.
Look at the sea.
All those little waves swallowed by others.
And, beneath the surface, the tiny fish that flicker
like colored ribbons?
Swallowed by larger fish
and by seals. Seals by sharks. Sharks and orcas fighting
until the ocean around them froths bloody
as the sea birds wheel and shriek overhead.
It is like this with people also.
Your father went into your mother
and so you were made.
You rested inside her
in a long hibernation, a tiny vampire bat
curled upside down
in a cave, feet clinging to the ceiling.
Then you tore her apart.
Think of lovers.
They will not think of you
but they may wake up in the dark
and mutter something to themselves using your inflections
or brush the hair
away from their eyes as if with your hand.
And then there is God
who is always giving us the bread of his body
and his sour wine blood, saying, "Eat this. Drink this."
when, all the while, it is his earth
full of mouths that wait to swallow us.
It is enough to make me sick.
The world is full of such terror and still we cannot stay.
Sometimes the world is a terrible place, to answer Angus' question. These intelligent poems make the world less terrible, less hostile. Today's book of poetry cannot rave loudly enough about So Late to the Party.
This morning's office reading was a tasting menu from a very consistent gourmet, each and every course/poem fully satisfying, whetting the appetite for more.
One of the reasons these poems are so successful is that they are genuine. Real enough to stop your breath. Today's book of poetry felt like the poet/voice was someone he knew, already familiar with - or someone he wanted to know. Who wouldn't want to get at the source of this humour and dark wit, the kindness and ready sharp tongue?
Kate Angus' poems read like a story from your best story-telling friend, complete with private confessions, true dreads and unsuitable desires.
The Problem Is Not That God Does Not Exist
So Much As That He Will Not Bargain With You
I have a tree growing entirely
inside me: roots anchored
in the pelvic basin, and its top sprawls out leaves
and tender branches from my skull.
It is a Black Maple. In cold and dark,
we turn sap into sugar. Consequently, these days,
I am thinking about death: mine and others. Death
on the Nile.
Murder on the Orient Express.
Death in the Afternoon.
There were times, years ago,
I was very close
to stepping out in traffic's current
as the great white shark
of a city bus (in size, equivalent,
but you must substitute velocity
for teeth) bore down. Sometimes,
I would lull myself imagining
a pistol in my mouth. To fall asleep
thinking this was comforting. Insert
whatever image you prefer here: cigarette,
pacifier, bottle, cock. I was that tired.
I missed Tom that much. Last night
the bar was brown-paper-bagful packed
with friends like Concord grapes held together
by the supple vine
of Alicia singing about how God turned Miriam white with leprosy.
Because she questioned, her skin peeled off and fell like loose pages
from a broken-binding book. I don't know
what's made me so entirely happy these past few years, buoyant
as an empty Pepsi bottled tossed in the Cuyahoga and through the muck
still bobbing unflappably my way along. World,
I want to ask: how did I manage to find you?
And thank you for letting me come back.
So Late to the Party has at least one ghost and one sonnet, a tiny dragon, wolves and so on. What Today's book of poetry was most impressed by was the consistency with which Angus knocked her poems out of the park. Tension, humour, justice, fate, sorrow - it's all in this remarkable first book. Angus must have an old soul because these poems are wise beyond her years. And I do hope Kate Angus sees that as the compliment it is meant to be.
It is possible to run out of superlatives so please don't take my word for it. Take Kate Angus' words, find this book and treat yourself. You'll find poems you want to read to your lover/partner/friend. And they will thank you, I can guarantee you that - or Today's book of poetry will refund your money.
Imagine this: in a parallel
universe Tom gets up from the table for more coffee,
returns. So does my grandfather, from the trenches
without fearing thunder, and my other grandfather,
from the bottle and remembering
Russian soldiers' fists on his mother's door, that splintering.
Instead, no trenches, no soldiers. The gray childhood cat
doesn't slip through the cracked
open window to vanish forever out of frame. I take
my icons down from the shelf. I dust the pictures
and file them away. No one ever dies, ever. We all forget
to forget certain names: bodies we interred
in their little boxes; cities bombed to fragments, desolate
with weeds. The rubble rises up, every structure
rebuilds. No more necropolises. In the multiverse,
one door opens
and I sit with you, paring an apple into slices
thin as crescent moons,
a new night sky. If you take one, that means
you love me. In a different universe, three strangers
are playing cards. We're each someone else now.
In one universe, I am falling
asleep at this very second; in another I stare
at the ocean all day. In a third, we elope
but our friends are all dying. Somewhere else, I steal bread
to stop our daughter from crying,
but you're already gone. How does anyone
ever make this work? In one, you were conscripted
or died of consumption or I married for money
instead of for love. The multiverse is a door.
Any room, any door. I walk through
and keep opening
in this infinite trying to get it right.
Today's book of poetry greatest pleasure in his poetry life is discovering poets like Kate Angus. This book made me happy like the first time I read Charles Bukowski or Dave Lee. No similarity in style to either of my heroes but certainly as genuine, certainly as smart.
Today's book of poetry can offer no higher praise.
ABOUT THE POETKate Angus is a founding editor of Augury Books. Her poetry and nonfiction have appeared in The Atlantic, Tin House, The Washington Post, Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, The Academy of American Poets' "Poem-a-Day" newsletter, Best New Poets 2010 and Best New Poets 2014. She has received the A Room of Her Own Foundation’s “Orlando” prize, as well as awards from Southeast Review, American Literary Review, and The New York Times’ “Teacher Who Made a Difference” award. Kate is the Creative Writing Advisory Board Member for the Mayapple Center for Arts and Humanities at Sarah Lawrence College and curates the “Pen and Brush Presents” reading series for the visual and literary arts nonprofit Pen and Brush. She has received residencies from Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan; the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation in Sozopol and Sofia, Bulgaria; the Betsy Hotel’s Writer’s Room in South Beach, Florida; the Wildfjords trail in Westfjords, Iceland; and the BAU Institute in Otranto, Italy. Kate has a BA from Brown University, an MFA from The New School University, and has done additional studies at Yale University, Barnard College, Columbia University and Trinity College, Dublin. Born and raised in Michigan, she currently lives in New York.
BLURBS“‘Lift off the roof / of your skull’ writes Kate Angus in this confident, wonderful debut, and I do indeed feel my mind dangerously opened by the clarity and intimacy of these intelligent, warm, sad, funny, genuine poems. This poet takes us with her as she walks through the world, often alone, often filled with a happy despair, always hopeful, always thinking of distant others, including us, her readers. This book does not merely describe, but enacts a faith in life, and in poetry’s necessity. This is the poetry for those of us who don’t just want but need to ‘always and silently unseal everything,’ to see what we can feel and know.”
—Matthew Zapruder, author of Sun Dog and Come on All You Ghosts
“In poems such as ‘String Theory,’ ‘Complicity,’ and ‘My Life in Retrospect,’ Kate Angus reveals not only a gift for smart titles but a lyrical, questioning intelligence that makes her work a pleasure to read and re-read. She has the ability to chronicle her consciousness as she navigates between dualities and among certain recurrent images and motifs. The ‘body’s not a chassis / inside which we ride,’ she writes in one poem, though on an-other occasion she may be tempted to ride that metaphor like a train conducting her ‘from a deep forest / to a city closer to the surface layers / where the outside world tugs on my skin.’
Poems, then, are occasions; the day itself is a train and every hour ‘a compartment to sit in and read a book or walk through.’ The poet monitors the relations between the sometimes ‘stupid’ mind and the ‘terrifying’ body vulnerable beneath fancy clothes. God is the missing lover ‘always giving us the bread of his body / and his sour wine-dark blood.’ The world proves itself to be a terrible place, ‘and still we cannot stay.’
Each poem in this diverse group works on its own and as part of a sequence unified by this admirable poet’s sensibility and fluency. I’m delighted to introduce Kate Angus to readers.”
–David Lehman, author of Yeshiva Boys and Sinatra’s Century: One Hundred Notes on the Man and His World. Series Editor The Best American Poetry.
“Lately I've been reading a Kate Angus poem every morning, so I can start the day falling in love with language. The poems in So Late to the Party look at love and lust, loneliness and longing, and treat us to a better understanding of the nuances of humanity. These poems will break your heart.”
–Shelly Oria, author of New York 1, Tel Aviv 0
“Oh, this book. Don't miss this beautiful book. Kate Angus's debut, So Late To The Party, is a deep dive into longing. Perhaps the speaker in ‘Is The World A Terrible Place?’ gives the best summary: ‘Think of lovers.//They will not think of you.’ With pitch-perfect rhythm, crackling language, and sly humor (‘please do not ever leave me!’ is a line from an ode to the American Heritage Dictionary), these poems make us contend with loneliness, heartache, and the devastating passage of time. This collection will grab you by the throat.”
–Diana Spechler, author of Who by Fire and Skinny
The Side Dish #9
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