Killer by Kimmy Walters
Bottlecap Press, 2016; 94 pp
Reviewed by Bobby Fischer
Kimmy Walters’s new collection of poetry, Killers, is full of matter-of-fact storytelling that turns on the dime of metaphor. What makes these poems great is that these metaphors are unique, born directly from experience with the subject matter and with a digressive truth that only feels truer because sometimes how she gets there is confusing. In “How to Get There From Here,” for example, we move through a first-person narrative that brings us from the worldly feeling of imagining a map in order to give directions to the otherworldly notion of being raptured directly from a leotard, with the only intervening idea being that it’s hot outside. While that can be a jarring way to approach literature, it functions largely in the same way a person’s thought process works: thoughts travel along paths, rerouted by a thousand secret detours along the way. Upon arrival, the traveler is a completely different person from the one who left. When dealing with most people, you can reverse engineer that thought process and determine the roots. But most people aren’t talented poets; most people are obvious.
This structure—the idea that a poem is not a singular or plural idea, but the formal transcription of the process that brings us between those ideas—means that we’re leaning really hard on Kimmy Walters’s personality. Even if they're not, these poems feel like they’re about her. They are littered with specific references to roommates and mothers and landlords and little narrative synapses that evoke moment before we step into concept. The personality of these poems are a synthesis of really sad with really funny, balanced with basic observations about things. A poem titled “Anecdotal Evidence that Tickling Me Will Make Your House Burn Down” gives us a poem shorter than the title, a poem that acknowledges, yup, once someone tickled her and then that person’s house burned down.
In the collection’s best poem, “Crying Story,” the narrator laments that she's not crying because she’s in pain, she’s crying because the pain is not interesting. Her friend, attempting to comfort her places her hand on her shoulder and tells her, “the pain will be interesting soon.” There's an emotional arc in such a short span. It’s easy to relate to the idea of not only being in pain but also resenting that pain because it is normal and boring. That’s simple. There is a twist that comes with the friend comforting/threatening our narrator by telling her that more pain is coming, but not to worry, that pain will be the kind of pain she wants. It’s the type of twist that simultaneously causes a reader to pity the narrator (how dumb, she wants pain) and empathize with the narrator (if only my own pain were more interesting, it would be bearable).
This is Walters’s second book. Her first book, Uptalk, was probably not as dark but harbored a similar balance between silly and serious, painful and funny. Sometimes the pain is silly. Sometimes the funny stuff is serious. Each of these poems is sneaky, knocking you off balance with emotional relevance in strange places and lines that might get you in the brain or gut or spine or throat when you least expect it. Like our own thought processes, there is something revelatory behind every secret detour, and even if we end up in a different place than we thought we would, we can trust Kimmy Walters to bring us to the place we should be.