Book Review: LOCAL CONDITIONS by Kristofer Collins

 photo 3160b442-1394-4f64-8ee2-35852b477692_zps3rofd9f9.jpg Local Conditions
Poems by Kristofer Collins
Coleridge Street Books, 2015

Kristofer Collins’ Local Conditions, published by Coleridge Street Books, is a chapbook rich with candid, often tender reflections on family; specifically conventional family roles of son, husband, and father depicted unconventionally. It also continues the poet’s penchant for composing meditations on place, particularly Pittsburgh—its neighborhoods and neighbors uniquely its own—as he did in his previous collection of verse, Pennsylvania Welcomes You (CreateSpace Independent Publishing).

Whether reading all twenty-five of the poems included silently to oneself or aloud, there’s a breathless quality to Collins’ book; the product of several single run-on sentence-single stanza poems; among them: “Fix Bayonets,” “The Truth About Abstract Expressionism,” “Ants,” and “Spending Sunday Afternoon Listening to Jim Daniels’ Copy of Hall & Oates’ Abandoned Luncheonette.” In fact, only five of the book’s poems contain stanza breaks, with no poem exceeding twenty-four lines. The writer’s controlled, quiet rants have an effective stream-of-consciousness feel, and as reader (aloud or silently to oneself), one may need to remind himself/herself to breathe. In “Some Days Are Like This,” for example, he writes:

The crying baby on the afternoon bus angry
At his own insignificance and the mother’s
Intransigence, and the old man this morning
Who said to me, You’re full of shit, you’re bullshit
Like all the others
, hissing one last fatal fuck you
As he exits the shop, and the whole wide white sky
That pushes down on your head as if to say, Dammit,
I told you to stay put
, and really every time
A phone rings and the voice on the other end is not human
But still really wants you to buy something,…

While this poetry collection dips into an affection for Pittsburgh as its famously blue collar self, the writer renders it in a new light with mentions of landmarks and the norms of life in the region still referred to as the steel city, as in his “31st Street Bridge Poem”:

How much longer will 28 be closed?
And when will I walk across the 31st
Street Bridge again and visit Kristina
At the magazine offices and leave
With a bag of books written by the same
Drunks I see in the bars at night when it’s
Hard to come by a cab…

At times, Local Conditions is a journey from bar to pub, where each venue also serves as character. In “Heaven,” Collins writes of a town watering hole and its accompanying cast of regulars:

…Here you can still find foamy pints for $2.50, here
We still call one another friend. Out there are the wives,
The children & debt. Why would we ever go out there?
I can see the whole world perched on this stool and I gotta
Tell you I want no part of it. Some days someone walks in
With the paper or asks to change the channel to the news.
He is not-so-politely told to leave. There is no time here.
Nothing happens by design. It is wonderful.

It is always an achievement in poetry and writing in general to render a familial piece effectively without becoming too melancholic, melodramatic or pathetic, all of which can weaken impact. Collins deftly accomplishes deep feeling and resonance with the reader while avoiding any of the aforementioned traps in poems such as “Anger.” In it, he writes:

He was right to leave. It just wouldn’t do
Watching his son fall apart in the same bars
Where pieces of his own tattered being
Adorned every smoke-fouled surface. We must
Applaud his courage, if only quietly when alone.
And wish ourselves that same fortitude
To refuse this life and go searching for some other…

Though no word is wasted and no poetry misplaced in Collins’ collection, other strong works include opener “I Am Not Kahlil Gibran,” “Marriage,” “My Wife Goes to War With The Deer,” “City Forge,” “Molina,” “Ruth,” “When My Daughter Is Born,” and “Identifying Trees.”


Filed under: Book Review, Prose