Zone 3 Press, 2007
Paperback. 74 pgs.
Review by Joe Hall
Finding love amidst the grief caused by a father’s death, the poems in Kozma’s first book are shaped by these most elemental, turbulent emotions. Some of his best poems place us within a landscape scored beyond recognition by this grief. It isn’t surreal, just as Dante isn’t surreal. From “Dis”:
…The distance holds Dis, the city of regret. The way back
is blocked by frogs with human eyes in their mouths,
but there’s no danger if you don’t stare.
Some figure beckons—but it is only a shadow
shorn by the dimming sun. The sun is fed
more bodies and wells into brightness… (1)
There’s virtuosity here, an intensity pushing us forward, making us willing to accept the wonderfully bizarre imagery. At moments in “Dis” the speaker’s fidelity to this landscape is absolute, and what seems at first bizarre, we realize, has a purposeful place in the terrible logic of grief. It isn’t a trick of seeing—it is.
At other times, Kozma emerges from this place where meaning is made through the strange, ornate image and into a forceful clarity of image and statement. From “Too Steep to Climb”:
The crematorium is just one thin spoke
of ritual holding us at bay, and what a kind
dictator to present death only as a shroud.
Forgive me, father, for I have missed
your skin, your eyes, I have been blind…
The poem pushes forward past this moment, yet the effect of such candor is remarkable in light of the vertiginous landscape it emerges from. In the crematorium ash, Kozma mingles personal and communal grief and in doing so recognizes that his grief has obscured rather than revealed the grieved for. Content and form converge to raise us out of the turbulence of other poem. Kozma seems at home in the quatrain. His occasional rhymes, though not abiding by any formal pattern, give his stanzas a sense of balance.
Many of Kozma’s poems are less assured in their strategies, especially those which seek to overlay fantastic ways of seeing onto day to day landscapes—a bar, a coffee shop, over the sink brushing our teeth—as if to mimic how grief can overtake us anywhere: “Cold bleeds into my trailer, creeping / past the sun. I’ve patched the walls with rust” (“Blood Perimeter”). This seems, oh, a bit too Gothic. Another example:
. . . From the hilltop
our hotel was a bone in a nest of bones and our balcony,
where we imagined ourselves watching, was a splinter
of red. (from “Acropolis”)
But what do I mean when I say something is too Gothic? Is this just an easy way to dismiss a way of image making? Caveat: I’m not a great reader of the Gothic, but let’s take, for instance, Poe. He was interested in representing the subjectivity of an unhinged individual, characters whose minds were divided against themselves. What signifies these self-subversions is often the gruesome, the visceral—hearts under floorboards and folks bricked up in crypts.
Given time, these images became signifiers for a gothic way of thinking, yet when removed from their contexts, meat and bones do not contain the complexity of the work of Poe or Coleridge (a la “Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner). Instead, the gothic image becomes a way for the writer to stitch a landscape with pain, obscuring both the landscape and the pain, leaving the reader to grapple with the nakedness of this gesture.
One must build their own semiotic framework to encourage a reader to read complexly; Kozma occasionally fails to do this. Without being situated in frames strong enough to resist them, his stock of images can become somewhat exhausted on the conotational level. And there aren’t enough poems such as “Dis” which provide the vision of a larger structuring logic which has space enough to provide fixtures in which we can plug in the images and gestures of other poems.
So there are some duds.
I’m not being generous. Kozma’s poems are well made. He is sensitive to a harrowing kind of beauty. From “Through Ice”:
. . . Outside, in the rain, on a corner, is a love,
my love, waiting for a cab to enclose her,
or someone very like a cab. And the street is like slate,
and the rain is like bullets, and the sun in the blue sky,
is like transformation explaining photographs
of what it was . . .
Kozma’s speaker lives feeling the alternating concussions of grief and love. And though his images cannot contain the insistent tremor of these feelings, there’s a kind of eloquence in the dissatisfaction revealed by his movement from one to another.
Joe Hall is finishing his MFA in poetry at George Mason University where he is a Thesis Fellow. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Cimarron Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Versal and others.