Thursday, April 18, 2013

Tom Kirlin at The Writer's Center

We’ve just scheduled a poetry reading at 3:00 p.m. on April 27 with Tom Kirlin, whose Under The Potato Moon was published by Little Red Tree Publishing with support from The William Meredith Foundation. The book continues a Little Red Tree tradition of combining poetry and visual art, in this case reproductions of artwork by Nancy Frankel, who will also be in attendance.

The reading will be held here at The Writer's Center, 4508 Walsh Street, in downtown Bethesda. It's free and open to the public, and will be followed by a reception and book signing.

Richard Harteis, President of The William Meredith Foundation, will be joining us, and he is helping to coordinate the program. Long-time members of The Writer’s Center will recall William and Richard as old friends of the Center; it’ll be nice to have Richard back. Under The Potato Moon comes with a Foreword by Richard Harteis and an introduction by Michael Collier, posted here:


In Thomas Kirlin’s passionate, soberly rollicking Under the Potato Moon a weathervane “turned preacher” prays for the “Archangel rain” to nurture our world “with such crippled grace” that “Van Gogh himself would lurch afield to paint his breath away.” There is such exuberance of imagination and such abundance of transformation that his poems are apt to leave a reader breathless and gasping in surprise. Kirlin is like a capacious, melodic barker calling us to the carnival of an intensely vivid and deeply humane circus of life.

But the energized and rambunctious imagination is only one feature of Under the Potato Moon. The collection contains forthright yet gorgeous and poignant love poems. In “Banquet,” one of several sonnets, a couple, in the aftermath of a dinner party, take sustenance in the unrequited looks they stored up for each other during the evening by recognizing an illumination in their bodies that:

          Feast & appetite, feast & appetite—what
          but love of bones ever set out table right?”

In “Delivery,” while working his way through a stack of mail, Kirlin considers the “vanities of love.” The poem leads him in a typically delightful and unpredictable way not only to forgive “love rages” and
the “torn heart” but also to mull over the meaning of Christmas and Salvation Army Santas.

Connected to Kirlin’s spry and sparring imagination is a quick literary wit that showcases itself in “Thirteen Ways of Looking at Aquarius,” a parody of Wallace Stevens that begins:

          “Sporting a suave tuft
          a titmouse circles
          the crystalline globe—
          now even the blackbird knows:
          icicles, in the right hands
          weep to fill
          Aquarius’ bowl.”

Kirlin is drawn to allusion not because he feels it’s necessary to display his erudition but to show how his own work is part of the woven fabric of literary conversation and tradition.

For all the vociferous charm of Kirlin’s poems and the lightness of touch they can produce, he is a poet of deep and committed social consciousness. In “Anthem,” banter and play give way to a serious poem about the Cold War and Vietnam era when, as he writes:

          “there was blood on the sky each time you

In the disagreements of those decades, he locates the genesis of America’s current social and political polarizations:

          “Yes, we strangled Cold War paranoia to a stillborn stupor;
          yes, we broke old colonial maps in two, setting
          democracy free, but we also destroyed intergenerational
          communion, the brightest path to e pluribus unum.”

Finally, among the many reasons we read poems, one of them is to see how a particular person takes him or herself. In other words, the presentation of a life measured against a particular time and place, foregrounded in the personal but always with the social, political, and cultural coloring in the background. Thomas Kirlin’s poems amply answer this need and as such they offer a vivid record of what it’s like to be alive straddling two centuries.

Michael Collier, Director
Bread Load Writers’ Conference

"Telescope I" by Nancy Frankel
[Fired Clay, Acrylic] - 17" L x 6" Dia
Private Collection of Charles and Pat Timberlake

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