by Shauna Osborn, Contributing Editor
Stephen F Austin State University Press
Paperback, 64 pages
“Deviant behavior is an unwillingness or inability to comply with societal rules of conduct; its inherent condition is one of alienation from others. Deviance of all kinds seems to me to be actually widespread in our society, but the perception and enforcement of conformity means that those who exhibit it openly are made to suffer for it.”
–Peter Kline (excerpt from interview)
Kline’s debut collection of narrative, speaker driven poems utilizes traditional forms to introduce readers to his outcaste subjects. As the refrain of “An Encounter” repeats, “There’s something not-quite-right about…” Each poem deals with that tension, that off element, the speaker of the poem possesses. The sparse collection consists of tightly wound short poems—most are less than thirty lines, each line succinct. The title poem, which is a sequence of six dramatic monologues, is the longest offering of the collection if one considers page numbers alone (each of the monologues is given its own page, but each one is less than ten lines).
The poems that resonated most for this reader reside in the first section of the book. In “Axioms for The Anxiety,” Klein focuses on the disjunctive between sexual fantasy and reality—the confusion of “what’s supposed to be” and what is in actuality. The somewhat surprising second couplet does a lot of work in this piece: “Somewhere between your back seat and this poem/there’s a money shot where we’re supposed to be.” Kline takes the complicated emotions surrounding sexual performance, compatibility issues, and the huge divide between what the subject fantasizes, the stumbling mess of the reality, and somehow condenses it to these few lines. The words chosen and the form of the poem mirror the speaker’s anxiousness well.
“Swish,” in which the language reflects the dominance of the personae while addressing the speaker’s wishes or fantasies, utilizes the same tactic for a very different result:
I want to dress you as a man,
shark you in a fitted suit, iron lined
starched to your high white collar,
throatlocked in a double Windsor.
I want to draw you straight up and down
with the tight swish of silk slacks
around black captain’s boots,
flatten you out with a greatcoat,
stack your shoulders up with pads.
I found a mashed porkpie hat
for you to tuck your hair up under
with a low brim for your lashes,
a watch like a gold-bar handshake.
A pair of lucky drawers
and you’re him to the skin. I’ll tie you in
with a thick strap of stitched leather.
You’re my sexy, beautiful lover—
let’s see if you can be my man.
The personae in “Swish” is one of decision—a person who knows exactly what they want and designs to make others fit into the mold they wish to use. The poem leaves its reader envisioning a character whose deviance lends itself towards sadomasochism or, especially considering line fifteen, someone who has a compulsion to rework each partner into a version of an unmentioned previous lover.
The tension between the subject matter of the poems and the traditional allusions and formal structures is an interesting one which hopefully Kline will continue to explore.