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A Noise of Purpose: John Kilroy's Torque

Torque: Poems
by John (Clem) Kilroy (Burning Chrome Press, 2002)

John Kilroy's Torque contains (at least) three high-adrenalin poetry books in its 252 pages. And at work in all of the poems is Kilroy's commitment to full engagement— with language, with his varied subjects, and with the genuine joy and anger that fuels his fully-conscious fervor for the messed up universe he sees. As Kilroy puts it in "Future, In String Theory":

I believe you can sweep a floor / so crows caw the morning out; / their epiphanies bust the night. / Our planet turns in synaptic fire.

Kilroy's poetic planet turns on, as the title suggests, speed and energy. There are enough mentions and metaphors of cars in this collection to make even an inveterate Saturn and mini-van driver like me wish he could punch "holes in the speed of sound / turn life to swelling blood and daydream / the world changed by how I use this night / till the red lights of the law / dance through my window." Still, fourteen fewer driving references would have been nice. But that's like telling Ginsberg to shut up about supermarkets or Bukowski to forget about mentioning bars.

Like any book this full of poems, problems and redundancies emerge. Some of the poems seem rough, sacrificing polish for brash pleasure. Kilroy wants to personify and sum up the world too often with lines like "To the motherless beckoning / of space" or "Loneliness lends everything dimension." Such lines demonstrate his urge to ensure that readers (and the poet) can make sense of the narratives and the catalogues of detail Kilroy stuffs into each poem. Sometimes these summations work. Sometimes the poems do not need them.

It would be easy for readers to be diverted by the invigorating rants and dramatic narratives of some of the poems. But we should take care not to miss Kilroy's frequently deft, epiphanic lyrics, often undergirded by strong spiritual questions. Kilroy most fully explores these religious sensibilities in the book's final section, "I Wrench the Paradise," particularly in the poems "Easter" and "Keening Room." In "The Way a Poet Combs His Hair Until It's Perfect," Kilroy skillfully brings together body and spirit as the poem's speaker concludes an erotic encounter with a meditation on grace:

"It's not that fate / was unkind to you / all these years; / you just didn't know."

There are too many poems in Torque for all of them to be perfect, or for me to detail the longer pieces such as "The Incendiary," "Coda," or "The Day I Knew For Sure." And there are as many styles, some more fully explored than others. But collectively Kilroy is convincing in his evocation of a poetic consciousness in full motion, a mind leaving its mark like the jet in "Rest" that "urges the sky / to make way, insistent sound / of scarring, this noise of purpose."






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