Rachel Kann's The Gold of It All
Disclaimer: Don't read this chapbook in public. Some of the scenarios in Kann's collection of poetry and prose from her July 2006 performance at e•lix•r are heartbreaking. Not that I'm super stoic to begin with, but I found myself crying at a restaurant.
I'm lucky enough to have experienced several of Kann's distinctively intense live performances, so as I went through this chapbook I literally heard her reading it to me. But even without the mental audio, her voice leaps off the page, improbably blending her own amazingly open personality with the fully-embodied personalities of her characters. Kann is able to suspend judgment and personify sympathetically even those on the ultra fringe or who are otherwise contemptible. Her characters are believable, though perhaps having more depth than “real” people do. (Their credibility may well depend on the reader's degree of cynicism.)
Kann's poems are heavy on the assonance and alliteration, as in “Hot of Your Draw”:
essentially the best of me
is wrestling in ecstasy with the rest of me
which intentionally represses the blessing
to the extent of detested resentment
it's a testament to the flesh's sixth sense
and propensity for unrelenting destruction
And from “Montana de Oro”:
we are the girls
with timebomb tongues
counting down until others
duck and cover
unable to contain the runaway train
of our freightweighted force of nature
with pocketfuls of shiny shards
with palmfuls of question marks
with bellyfuls of crackling
Her poems cover a lot of ground – none is shorter than two pages – but she handles language so skillfully that her pieces beg to be spoken and phrases stick in your mind like glitter. You won't find any clichs in her work, unless they're ones she's invented.
Her prose is riveting. Although new to this genre, Kann has already achieved a seemingly effortless mastery of the short story. It's all the more exciting to me that she writes from my generation – when have you ever encountered a story framed with lyrics from a Violent Femmes song? I rarely see myself or anyone I'm likely to have ever met in literary fiction; I have to stretch to identify with the “universal” to the point that I usually say, fuck it, and go read sci fi.
The generation before losers and loners could hook up on MySpace, your choices for companionship were limited to whatever school you were stuck in. You grew up alienated from a society that had given up on the idealism of the sixties, and in a moment of benign neglect had left you to your own devices. No one bothered to romanticize drug and alcohol use, it was just what everybody did. Most of all, we ended up with no idea how to create healthy intimacy, but keep trying in our own dysfunctional ways, as in Kann's story, “Angle of Repose”:
She senses that she's in danger of slipping down a rabbit hole, stops mid-question. Catches herself at the brink. She fancies herself the queen of mixed signals. A reluctant master at both giving and receiving. She is making a concerted effort not to fuck this up. She wants to maintain. She will inevitably have to face him again. She is riddled with heart-shaped bullet holes.
. . . She feels like she was going to tell him something but forgot what it was, like every word she pulls off the shelves of her brain is ill-equipped to label what she means.
He feels like he wants her mouth against his, but cannot tell the price.
Kann reveals a knowledge of male/female dynamics, far more cruel and raw than anything Hemingway ever found out from screwing prostitutes, as in her story “Do It All the Time” (which would make for a more useful high school curriculum than The Sun Also Rises):
Hey, you wanna know the latest? My current scam is to get involved with someone and force her to keep it a secret. Really make it stressful. Any reason but cheating, that's too easy. You know, something to keep the bitch just a little bit on her toes. Let her worry I'm ashamed of her, ashamed of people knowing we're together.
Whether you see yourself reflected in her stunningly realized characters or not, Kann's writing is deft and impressive. With her turn toward prose, she is soaring toward the top of the stack of must-read writers.
(The Gold of It All by Rachel Kann. re: press, Los Angeles. 2006. $9.00 www.inspirachel.com)