Thursday, August 30, 2007



Punk Poems by John Burgess
(Ravenna Press, 2005)

When I got John Burgess’ book, Punk Poems, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I worried that my knowledge of punk music wouldn’t be vast enough for me to enjoy the poems. I wondered if I would understand all the references. Would I be like my father, the classical music enthusiast, who sadly shook his head at the music he heard blaring from the stereo of his teen-age daughter?

This book has no notes at the end, nothing to help a clueless reader decipher all the nuances of a poem. In some cases, that’s not a disaster. After all, can there be very many people who don’t know who Dale Evans was? In other cases, I had to do a Google search. I’m fairly certain I got accurate information, but one never knows for sure.

Some of these poems are rooted in the work of punk artists, but many of them are not. One of my favorite poems made reference to June Carter Cash: “Not so much love but a flood--/ Not desire touch skin / Not intimate but a river--.“ Each of these punk poems, the first 48 poems in the book, consists of ten lines. These lines often form a perfect image (sometimes perfect in its effect of disturbing the reader). Likewise, the poems in the section, “17 Views of Mt. Fuji” often attain a zenlike, koan quality of mysticism.

My favorite section of the book was “10 Imperfect Sonnets.” I was drawn to that section of the book because of its epigraph from Meriweather Lewis, and its references to early country music artists, Patsy Cline, Hank Williams, and Johnny Cash. My favorite poems in the whole book are the last two, with lines like “Since you left I’ve been as lonely / As a Johnny Cash song solitary / As a man without parole” and “O—if I had to live off the land . . . Know how to persevere / Hammer and shotgun near.”

This book seems written by a poet who takes great delight in a wide variety of musical forms, which gives the poetry a diverse richness. All of the poems are short, most only ten lines. Often I wished for more. Of course, that is often my downfall in life: give me the perfect morsel, and I’ll wish that I had a whole plate. I’ll spend a lifetime trying to recreate a moment that was perfect. Poems like these remind me that sometimes satisfaction can be found in one, small, carefully crafted gem.


Kristin Berkey-Abbott earned a Ph.D. in British Literature from the University of South Carolina. She has published in many journals and was one of the top ten finalists in the National Looking Glass Poetry Chapbook Competition. Pudding House Publications published her chapbook, Whistling Past the Graveyard, in 2004. Currently, she teaches English and Creative Writing at the Art Institute of Ft. Lauderdale, where she has just been promoted to Assistant Chair of the General Education department.


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