Kenneth Gurney's A Place to Keep Spent Time
As I took in the cover of A Place to Keep Spent Time it was as good as
a glimpse between the pages of the book, although I didn’t realize it
at that moment.
Prior to receiving this assignment, the only thing I knew about Kenneth
Gurney is that he once sent me five dollars for a poem that he published in the Tamafhyr Mountain Irregular Poetry Journal.
Being one who believes that even poets deserve some reward for their
craft, that impressed me greatly.(Although I did not cash the check, I
like to look at it from time to time for affirmation.) But what
impressed me even more was his clear reasoning for selecting the
piece, which he shared with me when I asked. This too was a glimpse
into the clear, concise, and lean voice of his poetic world.
The cover is a lithe, black technical drawing just above center on blue
granite paper; a clock of hands without a face, the time set precisely at
5:05 and 44 invisible seconds, the title and author’s name, A Place to
Keep Spent Time poems by Kennneth P. Gurney written around the rim of
the clock, and lots of empty space on the page. There is room for
interpretation, an altered view in the service of this universal
concept, globally accepted; the icon, and mechanism for time.
Time: what it holds, what it harbors, how it cheats youth, how it flies
by, how it is gone all too quickly, unless, of course one is in a
hurry, and then it will mosey along as if it has nowhere to go. Time: the way it steals from winter to extend summer, and then leaves a whole town
thirsty. How it takes a lover so far away that even her memory finds it
difficult to travel back home for a visit. Time: the unexpected luxury
of it in American culture. The joy of it in a moment of communion with
nature that restores stasis after a long lament. Time, and all these
things implied in the empty space before I even begin to read.
I flip through the pages and love everything at first glance. The feel
of the paper, the dedication "for the birds, especially the sparrows," the balance of poetry to
page, and the clean graphic style that follows each poem through the
What of the poetry? Similar. Clean, fluid, easy like the
crow flies when the sun comes up too early on a deserted country
road and then down the road comes the poet, Kenneth Gurney, and he
records the moment the inhabits there. Click!
Much of the poetry in Keeping seems to authenticate the qualities the poet points out about himself, his environment, and the
aspects of his life that he joyfully describes in his bio; a life of
imposed solitude, moderate isolation by choice, and a closeness to the
natural world that allows him to connect readily to the cycles of life.
There is a metaphysical quality that oils his purview at times, an
awareness that can only come out of quiet contemplation and careful
to be a man
who accepts his fall
leaves. (p. 43)
"My Spirit Brought Me Here to Drink"
From the riverbottom, I hear
the voices of newborns
tossed in the moving water
by their mothers, fathers.
I hear no recrimination
In the voices of bones now silted.
There is an echo
of thanks to God
from once starving fish
now way downstream. (p. 31)
There is music in the rocks,
a concert of trees-the birds
bear witness to Mozart. (from "Pledge" p. 28)
I enjoyed Gurney’s ability to avoid the sentimentality of nostalgia by
drawing it in juxtaposition to the unpredictability of circumstance
amidst the most careful planning, and the cruel interruptions the
world imposes on our aesthetic visions of perfection. For example, in
"Elipsis" he records:
The man in the tux
with one shoe in his hand
seeks for a step, a stone or a stick
to scrape the dog shit
off the sole before he gets married. (p. 7)
and in "Figure Drawing":
The model stands exposed
to the shiver through her flesh,
an unstifled yawn. (p. 8)
And then, all of a sudden, Gurney turns political. He sounds
almost angry here, like an after five o'clock shadow lengthening into its own
Maybe it would be less insulting
if all magazines had nude covers-
take it off ladies. All of you.
Let your sex spill out and spread a liquid bath
of antiseptic genocide
drowning the microscopic mindedness
that fuels the marketing machine. ( from "Woman Who Crushes Spiders" p. 19)
Throughout my reading of these pieces over the last few weeks, I kept
waiting for something to jump out at me. Some clear angle from which this writing begins. Deadline now past, I realize that what it is; that Gurney’s work has a potency that creeps up on the reader with the
simple clarity of time. The title nails it!
There is a steady quality that runs throughout this book, a metronomic
cadence, like the marking of seconds in a minute, the minutes in an
hour. This cadence binds these poems together.
For a moment when I was reading late one night, I had the
impression the collection lacks the kind of passion one gets used
to in inner-city poetry circles. Passion like we hear from the likes of L.A. poets like
Sam Skow, Stosh Machek, Rachael Kann, or Bridgette Grey (to name a
few). But just as that thought came, I stumbled onto "Parabola &
Parable" which ends by revealing:
A siren calls me
into the curve,
the arc of the water
at the river’s edge-
there is no fear
into flame. (p. 13)
Some passions ride below the loud surface of the rails, the kind of
passion that simmers like Mt. Saint Helens or Kilauea. It’s there... disguised as a mountain.
Not once does she mention
the magpies and their endless
flights of meaning, their
their laughter directed at chickens
tamed out of their wings.
The ghosts born of her empty womb
congregate in the golden light
like suspended dust. (from "Two November" p. 18)
I found this collection to be evocative in an understated way, peopled
with characters Gurney chooses to reveal without definition. For
the longest time I thought Larka was a dog, until she took out her
compact and looked at herself in the mirror. Is she a woman? Maybe. Or maybe she is his muse; she appears in more than one piece!
Larka is afraid, curled up
in the corner, shadows
all around her.
Larka leaves herself
laying there, discards
her trembling body,
rejects small sobs.
She takes a hike
through the walls,
follows the poetry
so plainly written
on the concrete sidewalk. (from "Temper" p. 22)
And what of Hannah and Ruth? Are they Gurney’s children?
Ruth is asleep and will burn in those spots
where the fifty-four SPF lotion missed.
Hannah, thirteen, so impatient,
flirts with the boys and feels the power
of her developing curves, the pressure of fabric
As her nipples rise; in a moment realizes
she is as headless to the boys
as if the Taliban carried out
a religious execution. (from "Bradford" p. 5)
And how about Gerald, Bradford, Lydia, and Anna, Delphi, Ellie, and
Paul? Why does he keep so much of them all to himself, or are they
there, hiding in the depths of his slow turning words. I imagine it is
questions like these that will likely send me back into the pages of A
Place to Keep Spent Time, again.
(A Place to Keep Spent Time, copyright 2005 Kenneth Gurney, Origami Condom Press, $ 5.00 + shipping, email Mr. Gurney at firstname.lastname@example.org)