Arsenic Lobster poetry journal
Issue Nineteen
Spring 2009
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BlazeVOX Books, February 2007, 88 pp
ISBN 1934289337

Self-realization and gender-bending are two themes in Amy King's I'M THE MAN WHO LOVES YOU. The cover begins to reveal them, with its depiction of a masked woman in a wedding dress, and typography which displays the words "I'M THE MAN" in larger text than "WHO LOVES YOU", readily evoking the urban boast: "who da man?" King is, of course, and furthermore? She loves you. "YES, YOU", as the title of the book's final poem reinforces. You, me, all of us, the full catastrophe, as Zorba the Greek said in another memorable quote about men.

The book's 60 poems, in savant-like methodical brilliance, are arranged in alpha-order and prefaced by a quote from Virginia Woolf's cross-dressing, sex-changing Orlando: "Everything, in fact, was something else." This frames things perfectly, for to exist in King's world for the duration of this book is to implicitly agree that 2 + 2 = mud, and Points A and B are hundreds of ants apart. Just one poem is dedicated to the DADA, but the school of found and sound poetry seems to inform many more. Take for example, her "FOUND FOUNDATIONAL POEM", which begins: I agree art can offend with intent and hilariously concludes: Sorry if that sounds harsh.

This anti-art, beautifully-ugly quality can take some time to sink in and, while it may not immediately please, that is half the point. And if you give these poems their due, they will quickly become an acquired taste, even a nice little habit. For one can not read King's lush, dense verse hoping for quick fixes of well-foreshadowed epiphanies. King makes her readers work. And as is so often the case with working, the rewards are the greater for the effort.

Indeed, King seems to go out of her way to don an epilectic shirt to see which seizures bring what vision ("A RETURN TO ROADSIDE NATURE")— to head bravely down the rabbit hole time after time. If it all sounds a bit too intellectual, take comfort in the fact that planted like exquisitely-painted Easter eggs amongst this ideological complexity are liberal doses of romanticism: There should have been more images among us / ones that could mislead the witness /on his search for the latest factual placebos / but boxes started arriving, filled with a human / percentage that would lighten the moon's distance ("A SOLUTION TO SCIENCE, IN PART").

Such balancing of the factual with the fantastic, the mundane with the magical, is a high-wire act King does extremely well. One would expect nothing less from a savage with tiny daisies stuck to my fingers ("AFTER WHISPERING"). In fact, the moon makes an appearance more often than one might expect in poetry this heady. And that King is smitten with her adopted city of New York is obvious from its many cameos.

This is a self-conciously self-concious poetry, always examining, hyper-aware. One poem is even titled "I USED TO BE AMY KING", and in "MINIATURE DISASTERS" she refers to herself in third-person again: ...Androgyny and honesty / ought to play frozen roses on apocalyptic landscapes, / the landscape of Amy King's face fused / with artificial intelligence on which hers lies / infinitely predictable. Such self-deprecating irony is charming but, make no mistake, there is nothing artificial or predictable here.

Yet there is a deliberate breeziness in tone that permeates the collection. In the titular poem, King writes in reference to the opening lines: I originally meant to throw that sentence away. Which of course, begs a question. The suspense and tension build until, towards the poem's end, King explains: I put myself into this box of unerased sentences, / I live in a box that lives in a drawer with arrows pointing / out the professor then female then southern parts of me.../...though I adhere / in something of a masculine vein that can be coaxed open but / is more often dilated then narrowed into a permanent voice-style,...

So what of this hip-swaggering, "masculine vein" poetry coming from a woman? King's whip-smart, red-hot poetry is a turn-on, no matter which team you play for. Forget sex as subtext— here it's unabashedly front and center, with titles like "SLIGHTLY PARTED THIGHS", or these lines from "AND UT PICTURA POESIS CALLS HER NAME": Interlocking legs twirl / Voices out of words. The smallest story of two people coming.

Just as seductive is the music woven, warp and weft, throughout King's verse. It's appropriate that the book's title is lifted from a song by a popular band (Wilco), for this is madly lyrical poetry. King's carmelized treatment of syntax ("I WANT YOUR WAR") juxtaposed with her emotionally honest, collective-subconscious imagery, is a joy both to read aloud or to savor, over and over, on the page: An admission from the room's / center includes removing a heart / from its clamps, wrestling / the sucking tug of muscle from muscle, / a terminal breath at maybe / eight p.m., more grief in potential, / a hanging sled /on the wall in summertime ("THIS IS AN ACTING MARRIAGE").

A little confused? A little jolted off-center, Castenada-style? Relax, for as Castenada found, such wrenching brings heightened awareness. Amy King is not an easy nor a comfortable poet. One does not turn to her verse to relax. When one reads King, synapses in the brain begin to fire like corn popping in a kettle, slowly at first, but then faster and faster, in furious staccato succession. One reads King to wake up, to taste both salt and sweet, even the occasional burned-to-a-char kernel which, if you'd just admit to it, you also crave.

Do I take a metaphor too far? If so, I plead Amy King. She always goes there, at times almost to the point of recklessness, a ledge-teetering recklessness that handsomely pays off. As the last poem in the book concludes: You'll inhabit a degree of verve forever to be / dispatched... / ...there's a storyteller within / if only you'd let her loose.

Lissa Kiernan
Poetry Editor, Arsenic Lobster Poetry Journal
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