Jake Kennedy dances sideways in his own Merz Structure

Jake Kennedy. Merz Structure No. 2 Burnt by Children at PlayMerz-Structure-No.-2-Burnt-by-Children-at-Play-Jake-Kennedy-Cover-5101. (BookThug 2015).

The title of Jake Kennedy’s 3rd book has to do with his having accidentally burnt down an abandoned house when a kid, then later discovering how Kurt Schwitters’s Mertz Structure No. 2 was destroyed after some children playing with matches accidentally burned the building in which it has been constructed down. At least so the back cover copy tells us. What it doesn’t tell us is that this tale, like so much else in this collection is a slyly devious subterfuge, a nifty sleight-of-hand.

Somewhere toward the end, someone or something tells us that ‘Galeano believes in language. We do not believe in language. We have not had to believe in language . . . asked, maybe, to live the very opposite: that language does nothing at all.’ Given all the ‘language’ this text has thrown at us in a variety of modes, this should bring us up short, but it feels like just another feint, & like all the others, has a certain energetic frisson. Kennedy can jump all over the place in these pieces, but he doesn’t bore or offer the obvious. So, is this a simple attack on the viability of politically engaged writing or, more complexly one of many sly takes on the difficulty of same in a North American society all too happy to just get along, ignoring politics or ignorant about it. After all, later in the same piece, ‘Mishaps Or,’ another figure says ‘the real,’ like art, is both grace & shame, & this book suggests we live in that contradiction (or dyad).

There’s a little bit of everything in Merz Structure No. 2 Burnt by Children at Play: prose poems, one-liners printed in huge font (‘Impromptus,’ but really more prompts for whatever: ‘Accept art as hysteria’ or ‘Suffer as paper above flame’), what appear to be going to be ekphrastic poems but diverge into surreal little monologues; all delivered with satisfactory wit. In the verse-shaped poems, line & stanza breaks always serve both rhythm & concept: ‘where “” are the talons / of one of Stevens’ blackbirds // above the sea / the sea as – wait for it – // that fallen theatre curtain / and the audience, rapt // covered in its hush.’ How this moves across textual & conceptual borders so easily.

Merz Structure No. 2 Burnt by Children at Play is a kind of portmanteau book, full of disparate goodies, all of which tantalize the taste buds. It does, well.

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