Absinthe Literary Review, Book Reviews Spring 2002
B O O K   R E V I E W

Winter 2004

Arguing With the Troubadour by kris t kahn

Arguing With the Troubadour
kris t kahn
iUniverse, Inc.
Lincoln, NE
70 pp. $10.95 U.S.


An unattributed back-cover description of this poetry collections reads: arguing with the troubadour, kris t kahn's first full-length poetry collection, is absolutely vital to contemporary American poetry ... exhibits mastery over craft, paying homage to literary predecessors while insisting on a new mode of poetics that more fully depicts the travails of modernity and the need for a new postmodern gay poetics."

Okay, if this is a blurb from Seamus Heaney, you have my attention. But since this is more than likely written by the poet himself (given its iUniverse origins) or at best some sycophantic hanger-on, it comes off as the worst kind of egotistical posturing or ass-kissing—neither being particularly effective in the realm of selling the material. With this kind of unattributed hyperbole, the poet sets himself such a high bar that nothing but A Season in Hell or a Howl would satisfy the reader. And kahn has a ways to go before reaching Rimbaud or Ginsberg territory.

This is not to say that the collection lacks value or that kahn lacks talent. Both are evident, though not with enough consistency and shine to validate the phrase "mastery over craft." There are some extremely strong individual works (ALR has even published some of kahn's work in the past), but many in this collection betray an occasional rough edge or stumbling point. Nothing fatal, just the kind of flaw one wouldn't expect from a master—even one engaged in the difficult task of "seamlessly fusing and confusing elements of the classical and the hypermodern.” (Again, unattributed.) The best thing that can happen to this reasonably-talented young poet of high potential is for him to realize that he has barely ventured out of apprenticeship and into the journeyperson phase.

Though kahn has no doubt heard it from us, we'll repeat this piece of advice for other young poets working in lowercase style: Apart from the fact that its cliché, ineffective, and downright silly, apart from the fact that it's the most common style for high school poets (hardly a benchmark for a potential master), apart from the fact that most decent poets went through their lowercase style in their early teens (I believe I was twelve), apart from the fact that it brands you as lazy; apart from the fact that it hinders communication and will generally speaking drive off 60-70% of your readers right off the bat ... apart from all this, why would you want to do something so utterly done? It only shows you to be a poet desperate for a device, a poet frightened or incapable of using language itself in an interesting and muscular manner. It is not in any way groundbreaking. kahn devotes an entire poem to this penchant for the lower case, but it failed to convince. There is enough quality in this collection to merit a low generic recommendation (the strong poems, especially the ones that delve into gay relationships and attitudes, are very good), but quite frankly we're afraid to put our stamp of approval on something with such a ridiculous claim on its cover.