"They keep paging Kenneth Koch at the airport," begins local poet Carl Adamshick's new collection. "Someone should let the announcer know/ he is dead…" Well, Saint Friend (McSweeney's, 65 pages, $20) is paging quite a few poets, not least of whom is Koch. Adamshick shares Koch's gift, at least, for good-natured romps into wild abstraction, the rare ability to make the absurd and disjunctive seem particular and intimate.
Though "Layover," Saint's blockbuster of a first poem, is filled with intimations of death, it is less about mortality than loving the world too much to lose any part of it. "It is yes until I die," Adamshick writes, "and when I die/ I want to be paged once each day in an airport/ somewhere on earth, so people/ will think I am just running late or lost." In its emotional effect, the poem is a bit like a stroke victim brightly smiling with one side of her mouth involuntarily downturned: "Let's keep singing the songs we don't live by/ Let's meet tomorrow. We don't to have to wait/ until the holidays.â
Adamshick is an insider's outsider, a self-taught poet whose ear feels more natural to the form than most who were schooled in it. He got his education in Harvard—the small town in Illinois, not the university—and nowhere else. He's professed in interviews not to have read a book other than The Call of the Wild until he was 21.
The result is a voice and penchant for left-field metaphor that is consistently startling and entirely his own, even with the book's occasional rare stumbles into the overly explicit or clichéd: "My only wish/ is that I die before you/ so I don't meet that pain."
Each poem sets for itself an abstract field and fills it with tenderness and the troubling complexity of the particular. A mathematician calculates a waning life, or a month dissolves into a series of moments. Amelia Earhart's intimate familiarity with tragedy as a World War I dispatch nurse is juxtaposed with her slow fade into the horizon, where everything blurs together: "I want to believe/ in morality, that action is governable/ and correctable/ but I find myself listening/ and when I listen/ I find I can't judge reason."
Saint Friend is a thin volume that is eminently generous in spirit—the size of a daybook, and just as reassuring an accompaniment.
GO: Carl Adamshick reads at Powell's City of Books, 1005 W Burnside St., on Thursday, Aug. 21. 7:30 pm. Free.