Before the Big Bang Makes a Sound by Carolynn Kingyens Reviewed by Charles Rammelkamp
Before the Big Bang Makes a Sound Poetry Kelsay Books, 2020 $16.00, 57 pages ISBN: 978-1950462698
Time, faith and love are the big themes that bang against each other in Carolynn Kingyens’ lovely lyrical poems. She writes in “Coney Island”:
I want to go back in time where hope hangs heavier than the moon; when love is hard as a fist inside the throat…
But in the final poem, “Never Look Back,” she reflects:
Oh, the drudgery of nostalgia, the sentimental – strange hoarders of ghosts.
“No One Is Immune” opens with a sort of tongue-in-cheek epigraph from Britney Spears and features a bump-and-grind pop diva who is starting to feel the effects of time, icing her swollen joints after every show. But it ends on the sobering reflection:
But the body, like time, continues to keep score on all of us, and no one is immune.
But it’s more than physical breakdown that time brings, though that’s one of the effects, as we see in poems like “Autoimmune,” in which the protagonist is blindsided by a disease already in her DNA, or in “Break the Mirror in Your Youth,” where she laments that beauty “has less / of a shelf life / than vegetable oil / and MSG.” It’s all there before the Big Bang even makes a sound! For we also read in poems like “The Attic,” in which a woman comes upon a “dust-laden time capsule” in the form of a photograph of herself in a bikini, the unforeseen emotional and “moral” evolution that comes with time.
You stare into those squinty eyes of that happy and still hopeful girl, who is unaware of all the kneeling to come.
“Kneeling” suggests the poet’s ambivalence about religion and “salvation,” which we read about in poems like “Bathroom Crucifix” and “You Can’t Handle the Truth” (“Christ says His sheep / will hear His voice; I am listening.” You can feel the skepticism in those lines).
“Of Mice, of Men, of Chickens” begins:
I come from a long line of women who can break a man’s heart and a chicken’s neck
This is the “love” theme, inseparable from time and faith, and just as complicated. We read in “Fantasy Meeting” about an imagined reunion with an old lover in Grand Central Station, in which “your eyes will tell / of your regret.” For this, finally, is what time amounts to, as we read in the penultimate poem, “The Parable of Time” (“Time is boss / She owns us….”)
Time has many daughters – Déjà vu (Deja), Irony, History, Regret, and the toughest of them all – Karma. These are her agents, her reapers.
Kingyens’ meditations on religion, relationships, growing older, though, are often laced with a sly humor. “The Northerners,” for instance, tells the story of a couple newly settled in a community south of the Mason-Dixon line, trying to fit in.
You couldn’t understand why every sentence started and ended with Honey like, Honey, I’ll get that, or You don’t want to do that, Honey.
It was a little too intimate for Northerners.
Set mainly in New York City, these poems are alive with wit and insight.
Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for BrickHouse Books in Baltimore and Reviews Editor for The Adirondack Review. A chapbook of poems, Me and Sal Paradise, was published last year by FutureCycle Press. Two full-length collections are forthcoming in 2020, Catastroika, from Apprentice House, and Ugler Lee from Kelsay Books.
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