If you know who Ryan Kent is, it’s probably from his role as a vocalist in several bands around town, most notably southern-fried metallers Gritter and brutal thrashers Murdersome. As a rather talented lyricist, though, it wasn’t much of a stretch to move into the poetry game, as he did with his first book, Poems For Dead People, back in 2014. Since then, he’s continued writing at a furious pace–he even mothballed an entire book’s worth of poems that he decided weren’t the right thing for him to release at that time. However, he has finally given the world another volume, in the form of This Is Why I Am Insane.
This collection, admittedly rather thin at only 64 pages, is nonetheless jam-packed with poems, which often appear two to a page. Each poem is numbered, then placed into the collection out of order, in a sequence only clear to the author. The numbers are as low as 04 and as high as 151, and while not all the numbers inbetween appear here, enough appear to make clear that this project is the result of a sustained burst of creativity in which Kent cranked out a great deal of high quality material.
He didn’t lack for inspiration, either, and the crucial inspirational factor is made clear by the opening lines of the first poem in the collection, “Flicking Her Heel.” “Well/I signed them/like the attorney asked/and like everything/else that fades away/like the hairline/and pride/and teen angst/so does love.” If it isn’t already clear, this is Kent’s divorce book. The subject of a failed marriage comes up multiple times, but the stronger focus of this book is the life that remains once the marriage is over–tales of a loner lifestyle involving too much time at bars, or sitting home alone.
A lot of This Is Why I Am Insane‘s best moments aren’t even drawn from first-person observations, but instead from those little snapshots of someone else’s life a person catches by sitting in one place for a long time, paying attention to everything at once and nothing in particular. Poem 129, “Fwends,” tells the story of a car accident in which the drivers recognize their acquaintance only after they’ve collided. As the two women in the poem sit on a sidewalk crying together over their destroyed cars, Kent, watching out his window, thinks, “The ones you know/are sometimes the/ones who wreck/your shit.”
This is, for my money, the most striking moment in the whole collection, but there are plenty more to be found here. Kent has definitely developed a love for odd typography, placing large spaces between words, throwing down lines irregularly across the page, even sometimes s t r e t c hing out a word, or drrrrrrrraawwwwwwing it out across the page. At times, this works quite well; at the best moments it reminds me of Emily Dickinson’s many dashes of irregular length. However, at other times it almost feels like an obscuring device, like it’s being done to divorce the writer from the immediacy and impact of what he’s writing. The problem is, this protective device can also shield the reader from the full impact of the words. And they do hit hard.
Really, a great deal of this collection’s poems would work best read out loud. This makes a ton of sense in light of Kent’s day job as a vocalist–he’s used to converting his notebook scribbles to spoken, sung, or screamed language. Fortunately, he realizes that this talent still has value where his poetry is concerned, and will be harnessing that gift by doing a reading at Chop Suey Books in Carytown on Monday, August 28 at 6 PM (click here for more info). Whether you’re a fan of his previous poetry, someone who’s rocked out to his bands, or a total newcomer, this reading is worth catching. Ryan Kent may or may not be insane (personally, I found him eminently relatable–if anything, I’m a little worried about the guy), but he’s definitely talented. Go see him at Chop Suey on Monday night, and pick up a book while you’re at it. It’s worth the trip.
Follow Ryan Kent’s poetry at facebook.com/Poemsbythisfool.