Keith Gaustad’s chapbook High Art & Love Poems is a difficult book to talk about. The collection contains twenty-three poems, and is divided into five sections: “High Art Part I”, “High Art Part II” and so on. The “love poem” element is most prevalent in section IV, though there are some nods to it throughout. It is published by Broken Bird Press in association with The Conium Review. This much I can be certain of.
However, the poems themselves left me feeling rather puzzled and nonplussed. Generally speaking they don’t quite make sense. I would hesitate to call them nonsense poetry, as there are recurring themes and hints of something cohesive in all of them, but they certainly do sound like nonsense at times. Take this short extract from “Sound Bitten” for example:
“This lasts longer if you cancel the subscription
to the hand over hand method of
time released caution.”
It almost makes sense, but even after several readings, I couldn’t quite decode it. In a quest for understanding I sought out the publisher’s website, and found this illuminating statement:
“The poems in this collection utilize common vernacular, accessible to most readers, but they reveal subtle undercurrents of cultural satire and personal introspection for those who dig deeper.”
I’ll concede the “common vernacular” point. These poems aren’t overwritten or needlessly elaborate. The “subtle undercurrents” and “cultural satire” however are lost on me. Maybe I don’t dig deep enough when reading poetry. But rather than let my lack of understanding dominate this review, let’s look at a few of the things I did enjoy about the chapbook:
1 – There’s some interesting wordplay at work in many of these pieces. This extract from “Supper With Tequila” struck me with its inventiveness and vitality:
“Self pity away (a weigh?)
in a life boat from a half-sunken
We have proof —
eighty proof —
We have proof that it’s okay”
2 – The poems sound good when read aloud. Their sonic qualities far outweigh their literal ones. Gaustad uses breath and sound with skill and originality. The poem “Improvising A Book Jacket” is one particularly fine example.
3 – It occurred to me that perhaps, with its very meaninglessness, High Art & Love Poems was satirising “high” art. I’m not convinced of this reading, but it added a certain something to my experience of the chapbook.
Although High Art & Love Poems was a miss for me, there’s still material to be enjoyed here, and perhaps those of a more scholarly mind might like to check it out.
Christopher Frost is a writer from the North of England