The Easy Wreckage (poetry)

The Seamark Press
Iowa City, Iowa
Black and white illustrations by Donna Violetti
33 pages, soft cover.

This book has been hand-set in Van Dijck types and printed on Italian Garda and Fabriano papers in an edition of 250 copies. Soft cover, paper label on front.

Available through Alibris and AbeBooks.

Reviews Where to Buy  
A.G. Sobin, The Ark River Review

Ken McCullough is looking around for himself in The Easy Wreckage. It is his first collection and I hear a lot of poets in there with him. Since he is such a gentle poet by nature, he might not be offended if I mentioned traces of Snyder, Ginsberg, Marvin Bell, yes, even Robert Bly. Not to suggest there’s anything wrong with those people, I like them myself, one and all. But, I guess the thing that bothers me is that I do, from time to time, hear McCullough in there, and when he comes through I like it so well that I wish those other venerable folk would go away. For example, listen for Snyder here—but more important, look for the un-Snyder in it—the thing that McCullough has done with the impulse from that man:

      : bruises on my neck
         I kneel
         to smell the purple clusters
   Issa’s laugh in my belly
   your scent in my moustache

     breakfast from my coat
     deep into muscled yellow
       breast of pear
      down my chest:
   : and all around me

     —bursting gethsemanes;
       trees of white flowers
       trees of coral flowers

   I fly up into them.

The following is one of the finest poems in the collection and one that I see as being very much in the poet’s own voice. 


      R.E.M.   1908-
      K.D.M.   1043-

   Shaggy, leaning into a calyx of light
   My face consorts to move with things.

   Here is a rotted skiff on the crest of a hill
   and a calf is a streambed, swollen,
   bullheads excavating its flanks.

   And here is the smokehole vision
   of the trees on the other bank—
   I walk into it letting it happen.

   I see a codfish drying on a rack
   And butter beautiful with maggots
   in the easy wreckage of my youth,
   a world of spongebreast schoolgirls

   Their eight grade asses ungirdled
   leaping fruit were to me then and
   are and ever shall be;
   the hardon on the way to the blackboard.

   My lips become salty, ancient. My two dogs
   puff in their sleep like tiny bears.
   I am intruding, edging out through Delta mist.
   There is zebralight in the muscadine.
   I smell the sawmill but it is not there.

   A figure is walking ahead of me. I approach
   but find no footprints in the snow.
   It is 1920, my forehead opens like a
   window to the night. Father, I am you.

   And I can’t remember getting there or falling
   But the danger is my nature. As this game
   becomes a game no longer, we both play to win;
   It is the only alternative to losing.

   Fate is a pale excuse for anything, but please,
   Is there some way we might talk to each other,
   for the first time, as two people, afraid.

There is a considerable variety of poems in The Easy Wreckage. Many are tinged with a particular kind of surrealism that is done well by McCullough but done better, to my mind, by Duane Locke and those people down in Florida. Finally, the worst that can be said about them is that they are less interesting than the others. The book, on the whole, is a fine piece of craftsmanship—there is a poet in the act of synthesizing a personal style, a style which we unquestionably have begun to see.

The chapbook itself is hand set and printed and beautifully illustrated with drawings by Donna Violetti. There are only one hundred copies and I don’t know the price, but if you order quickly you might get one…it would be a very good buy.

David Jeddie Smith, Happiness Holding Tank

Ken McCullough’s style and subjects place him somewhere between the right and left of poetry. He is in turn both lamb and wolf, convincingly, thus admirably. His poems seem wiser by experience than many, though no less tender, more bold and courageous in stance, though no less delicate. He is certainly of this group {Terry Stokes, Bruce Guernsey, Carol Osterlund}, the most erudite, thus quotable. He compares, I think, as hurricane does to a squall: not neat or quick, but more brutal in the end and, memorable, demanding, overcoming. In this way, he offers himself more chances, risks, failures, and more spectacular successes. Maybe that is why he calls his vook THE EASY WRECKAGE (Seamark Press). Listen: “November plays his guitar with ragbag gloves.”  Isn’t that nice?

Thomas Dillon Redshaw, The North Stone Review

Ken McCullough’s The Easy Wreckage forfeits Tate’s (James Tate, Hints to Pilgrims) hopeful hopelessness, perhaps because McCullough seems not to compose so many poems so easily. His twenty-one mature poems fashionably engage tenuous formalities: he’s not unconcerned about the individual word on page and line, His longer poems offer, again, epistles: “A Winter Espousal,” “Blues Project,” and “Falling into Place” all address Nancy, Lally, and Kathy with syllogistic incompletion. This isn’t to say McCullough’s personal intimacy, however imagined, clarifies what Tate’s can’t, but it does nicely space whole words no more fashionably than other poetries. McCullough well avoids fashion, usually. There’s a patch in “Georgian Reception, for Robert Bly” showing what McCullough chances in his longer sentences:
   You must suffer!
   Lace compassion
   On the sidewalk worms
   here let me autograph your jock
   you must spit on Franciscans

I’m afraid he’s imperatively inventing here, whereas he’s not in “Matins::Iowa River”:

   sucking through the marsh
   past the muskrat hutch
   I must move
      like some fluteboned ungulate
      under cool rafters of the Rinzai forest

Although this discovery, like one of Tim Reynolds’, may be that of an opening sentence, there are discoveries at his sentence’s period”—bursting gethsemanes/ trees of white flowers/ trees of coral flowers/ I fly up into them.” Maybe that’s conventional closure, yet it’s discovery not invention. The tedia of “Georgian Reception” serendipitously imitate Tate’s. It’s the point to praise, however, so I’ll praise “Anti-Elegy for Father and Son”:

   A figure is walking ahead of me. I approach
   but find no footprints in the snow.
   It is 1920, my forehead opens like a
   window to the night. Father, I am you.

McCullough’s elegy isn’t so “anti”: the tenuous of line, swing, and convention do form it, so easing acceptance of “butter beautiful with maggots/ in the easy wreckage of my youth…” Simply, it’s easier to sense McCullough’s two formalities—spaced, in “Sabbatical Syllabus,” and tight, in “Amish Summer”—than Tate’s, which are individual, but expansive. “The Installment Plan” picks up Alan Dugan’s language, his line, and almost his misanthropy too:

   Bill, pigeontoed in your dubious teeshirt
   What do you do when loving her is like
   Keeping the sleeping pill o.d. walking.

McCullough’s most accessible verse performance occurs in “My Brother’s Garden” where his dip of High Church tone swings around each line’s caesura: “Where he walks there is no shadow, for the shadow is wed to bone.” The Sentence of such statement works this, and it reverses finally: “Sweet saviors, in time, you will snip off the lips of this criminal.” McCullough’s authority is formal: Tate’s seems idiosyncratic, but both The Easy Wreckage and Hints to Pilgrims are benchmarks in the realest rock. Theuir positions—sometimes the brasses are tarnished by weather—are triangulated between the earnest tergiversations of “Cal” & Co, and the fantasies of Poetry’s recently “flatted” voices. May each surveyor not misplace them. Pray.

Painting by Lisa Nankivil for "Obsidian Point" Book Cover

Photos of painting, books and other works by Kathy Greden

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