Michael Earl Craig, Thin Kimono
Publisher: Wave Books
2010, 105 pages, paperback, $14
michael earl craig’s collection of poems, Thin Kimono, has a simple, unassuming off-white cover. Picking up the book, you wouldn’t expect to find poems that demand to be shared with spouses and friends, but you do. Thin Kimono is an eclectic mix of traditional and prose poems, broken into three sections, the middle being one long, segmented poem. Craig’s work is humorous, and it draws the reader into the world of an author who visits acupuncturists and whose actual day job is shoeing horses.
The novelty of his own occupation isn’t lost on Craig. In “Today, For Example,” he wonders if he “fucked up with this horseshoeing thing.” The poem quickly changes tone with the line, “but then I talk with friends in academia and, well, I’m okay with my choices.” This line might bring on a smile, but when the description of the speaker’s day is described as shoeing horses “covered in mud and fecal matter,” Craig’s insinuation that his work is better than a job in academia suggests how awful an academic job must be. As with his other poems, Craig lets the subtle juxtaposition of images create the humor.
One of the best-crafted poems in the collection is “Windsor,” which is about a one-eyed horse:
Windsor’s left side is his evil side.
The right side is bright, optimistic,
perhaps a little nervous.
The left side is unsettling.
The left side gallops directly at one
like a cello solo. And so I duck
quickly back and forth beneath
his tied rope (horsemen: never do this)
and I note the evil Windsor, the bright Windsor
Craig’s poems excel when they use short, straightforward sentences and end-stopped lines. Rather than create an annoying, jolting rhythm, the end-stopped lines contribute to the candor of the poems. The often short, one-sentence lines provide a tone that is consistent with the humorous musings and images of the poems’ contents. In particular, “Notes to Self” is an enjoyable collection of thoughts well juxtaposed in the bizarrely personal context of the poem:
In the red-hot coals of the campfire I see the gently shifting face of a benevolent gorilla.
When you reach Enlightenment you just laugh. Right?
The somber way that motorcyclists wave to one another on the free-way.
Carol is on the porch. She lights a small cigar. It is dead calm out.
One poem, “Diana,” appears in the third section and seems out of place in the collection. A note at the back of the book reveals that all but one line of “Diana” comes from Vida Hurst’s novel, Diana. No doubt because it is written in someone else’s language, the poem doesn’t match the tone of the rest of the collection, as the action of “Diana” is chaotic and difficult to follow. Perhaps familiarity with the novel would yield a different read, but without such a repertoire the reader is left confused, unlike with the rest of the book.
Overall, Craig’s Thin Kimono offers an original and gratifying reading experience. The book provides many poems that are worth sharing with non-poets, not only because the lines are enjoyable, but also because the candor and straightforward nature of the work dispels the myth that poetry is abstract and inaccessible.