Reviews of The Arrest of Mr. Kissy Face
WHAT A TITLE!
I thoroughly enjoy reading poems of this nature, I see a smirk on the authors face, as he describes a serious matter, without derangement. The underlying feeling takes the reader through back roads and small towns, into the middle of nowhere, to reflect.
Places that seemed dead to creativity come alive in the subtle mundane.
Everything feels like a joke as it is simultaneously dead serious.
A double edged sword of language, The arrest of Mr. Kissy Face is a must read.
Reading Grabois feels old school. Nonetheless, the poems in The Arrest of Mr. Kissy Face are very much of 2019. This blending of simple, narrative poetry with modern themes and reckonings makes for compulsive reading.
Wringing Philosophy From Darkness
While at times strange, irreverent, and even whimsical in their narrative building blocks, these poems don’t make the reader work to gather their meaning. Instead of a well, these poems are a garden. You get what you see, though this is hardly a knock on Grabois’ poetry. What you see is visceral and emotional, wringing philosophy from the darkest moments of existence. The opening poem “Birds” explores a community’s response to wind turbines, eventually sliding into a meditation on the narrator’s relationship to his community and death.
“I grew up here
lived here all my life
but I never knew the place
‘like the back of my hand’
until I followed Death around.”
These simply told poems are beautiful and gritty in equal measure. Grabois is able to shift with ease from such heartfelt lines like “The pain wasn’t mine / but that didn’t make it / any easier” to a rumination on an overbearing parent: “There was no sink or swim there was only swim.” For all the hardship and ache in this collection, Grabois keeps his tongue in his cheek, his optimism not erased by years of existence on an often-cold planet. The writing reminds me of Bukowski on multiple occasions. But thankfully, none of Bukowski’s less enjoyable traits appears, leaving Grabois as a positive evolution of Bukowski’s direct, prosey style.
“A Hard Drizzle’s Gonna Fall” stands out as a marker of what this kind of poetry can accomplish when Grabois winds a poem about a character named Uncle Clarence alongside Woody Guthrie lyrics. It is a joy to read such unself-conscious poetry that revels in its simplicity and the quirks it is able to accommodate as a result. “One Universe Too Many” begins with the haymaker “The alternative universe / in which you’re not a colossal disappointment, / where is it?” Shortly thereafter, Grabois again wears death’s thematic shroud when he has a character make the following note of her environment: “Out the door of the funeral home / she saw the sun sparkle on the sea / which suggested to her that death was irrelevant.” And finally in “Ansel”, told from the perspective of Ansel Adams, Grabois has him say, “When images become inadequate / I shall be content with silence.”
Grabois’ poetry feels eager, childlike in that its directness and unabashed presentation look for connection at every turn. He does not give the reader a mountain, but a hill, one whose climb is easy, but whose apex has such a wide view of humanity that to finish this collection is to be reminded of why words, why storytelling exist in the first place.
Do the poems in most contemporary literary journals give you a headache? Are you tired of not knowing what the heck they are talking about? Then The Arrest of Mr. Kissy Face might be for you. Mitchell Grabois grabs his readers by the short hairs—his poetry is described by Robin Ouzman Hislop of Poetry Life & Times as “lucidly readable…delivered in a paced, snappy, even raunchy style, a mix of compassion with often hilarious black humor.”
Think Charles Bukowski meets Charles Bukowski. All kinds of stories make their way into these pages—stories about women, family, neighbors, random encounters, women—did I say women? As in the title poem:
I kissed the woman who slices lunch meat
at King Sooper’s
She shoved smoked turkey at me
and called: Next!
I kissed my doctor
I’d been wanting to do it
since she first told me to stick out my tongue
and complimented me on its smoothness
and the elegance of my taste buds
I kissed her and she asked
On a scale of one to ten, how have you been feeling this week?
I kissed her again
For me, Grabois is at his best when he lets his imagination run wild—which is often. In “One Universe Too Many” he writes:
The alternative universe
in which you’re not a colossal disappointment,
where is it?
It rode the Diphtheria Nebula
slid into the Oppenheimer Black Hole and hid there,
rested in perfect silence
He doesn’t shy away from the big questions:
What if my grandfather had not stopped in the Bronx
and become a presser in the garment industry?
What if he had continued west
to become a bronc buster in Colorado?
Grabois covers a lot of ground—from an Animal Control Specialist who picks up the corpses of birds at a wind farm, to having car trouble at Walden Pond and getting help from a nun, to hiding overnight inside the Van Gogh museum in Arles and sleeping in the artist’s bed, to becoming a Dumpster diver at the behest of a landlady who drives a pink Cadillac.
One of my favorites is “The Moment Gone,” where he recounts a childhood memory of wandering off when he was two years old and sitting beside a swimming pool:
A huge mass of possibilities began to coalesce
and I felt certainty begin its approach
an unprecedented feeling
No one had yet asked me what I was going to be
when I grew up
a silly question for a two-year-old
but I had a sense of the future looming…
I sat patiently waiting for the answer…
Then my mother
whose approach I had not heard
grabbed my arm
and pulled me to my feet
She knelt and hugged me fiercely
You could have drowned, she cried
You could have drowned
Pski’s Porch Publishing prides itself on promoting passionate, weird, unfashionable poetry, and The Arrest of Mr. Kissy Face is a prime example—far, far away from the MFA poetry mill, and a breath of fresh air.