Patter by Douglas Kearney
Red Hen Press, 2014; 94 pp
Reviewed by Wesley Rothman


Douglas Kearney’s Patter is CrossFit for your nonphysical body, and for your ears and your mouth. These poems challenge your spatial reasoning, your eyes, your daily sense-making abilities, any simplification, and map so much thought and emotion and language and experience that doesn’t fit the familiar dimensional plane of print. With text that jangles from the evenly ruled lines of typesetting, text that overlaps, changes size and font, uses arrows and angles to interrupt and change meaning, that blends handwritten lettering with uniform font, plays with word searches and visual language games and patterns, Kearney’s readers must be agile, adaptive, vigilant, and tough. And if they aren’t already, they will be after reading Patter.

And this collection doesn’t only bend language and our confrontation with it, these poems bend and stomp us to question fatherhood, sanity, how we make language and language makes us or bleeds us, to question how we cope with fear and loss, how moving forward with our lives masks and compounds the suffering we’ve known and witnessed, to question how we question and how we view the body, its skin and emotion, how we portray the body and its skin and its emotion through TV tubes and wires and LCD screens, how we improvise our way to a next day or week or job or child or family or neighborhood or frame of mind or love. Kearney’s book is utterly chaotic and utterly human and utters something about sense-making, about how we attempt to unmad madness, when madness is inevitable and before us.

Kearney continues to innovate, to invent poetry, to renovate the mind—its logical and emotional rigor—to jolt his readers from a routine poetry. I might become complacent, too comfortable, expectant of a particular insight reading familiar language and poetic conventions from poem to poem; this is impossible in Kearney’s poetic inertia, an inertia that mimics life in all its improvisation, curveballs, devastations, suddenness, and outrageous highs. Go experience this book!