Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The One Fifteen to Penn Station by Kevin Carey

I love it when a book of poems spans a range of emotions, without pretense. By that last bit, I mean well written, but not swaggery-full-of-itself or wink-wink clever. I want the poet to make me think and feel.

The One Fifteen to Penn Station is a good ride. Mostly tender nostalgia that touches on heartbreak, it offers humor as an antidote, as well as wisdom. Kevin Carey grew up on the tougher side of Boston, and it sounds like he had a good time of it, even as he looks back at the sure signs that they were going to lose some.

In “Memory Boys,” he laments that the guys at his reunion are

dressed up as middle-aged men
hair missing in a variety of places
and bodies reformed into softer shape…
all I saw were doctors and bankers
and a country club brat or two

That’s not why he came to the reunion.

I wanted to talk about the kid who got drunk my senior year
and scaled the slate roof of the dormitory,
gable to gable, four of them, like Spiderman,
and hopped into the Xavier Hall tower
and rang the bell at three in the morning
with a hunk of steel pipe as if he were Quasimodo
put that motherfucker in the hall of fame.

Maybe that hall of fame is for the ones who made it out of that neighborhood and into adulthood, not drowned or shot or hit on the railroad tracks. But all this tragedy doesn’t embitter the poems, it just adds a certain thankfulness, a father’s perspective, a coach’s understanding.

From the poem “Basketball”:

Now it’s more about helping kids
to feel good about playing
or sometimes keeping them from
killing each other, like last week
when a redheaded kid punched someone
and I asked why and he said, “Do you
want to know what he called
me?” and I said, “Yes, what did
he call you?” and he said, “Fire
nuts,” and I realized then that
coaching has little to do with
basketball and more to do with
not laughing at the wrong moment.
The poems reach back into the past and forward into the future effortlessly.
CavanKerry Press’s New Voices Series is dedicated to publishing emerging poets. A poet whose work is selected is given a tenure on the editorial board, and is asked to bring the art of poetry into the community in some way. I am awed by this, and also by the fact that this book is printed on 30% post consumer wasted recycled paper, which, the press asserts, “saved 2 trees, 1 million BTUs of energy, 127 lbs. of CO2, 67 lbs. of solid waste, and 524 gallons of water.” Hats off to you, CavanKerry. Hats way off.

I ask my students what they would ask an author if he were in the room, and what I would ask Kevin Carey about is structure, as in linebreaks and punctuation, which both seem arbitrary at times. But titles, firm middles and terrific end lines, along with sensory description and the range of feeling in an examined life make this an overall terrific collection.

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