May 2015

Brian Nicholson


Women in Public by Elaine Kahn

The title of the book answered, in the title poem's own words, the question, "What does the world hate more?" With Elaine Kahn's Women in Public in my back pocket, I am wondering how is it that anyone could ever identify with anything other than the abject, and how did the image of the poet ever become synonymous with that of a dandy? "Do you think that you are greater than a mom?" Elaine Kahn writes later in the same poem, and then, later still: "Life has its good points / And the fat, white thigh-bones / of a tourist."

Do you know the milky, dirty fluid that leaks through latex paint as the rain seeps through your roof? On the sagging ceiling it makes a breast whose nipple drips "plop, plop" sounds into the bucket placed beneath it. The way that sound fills up the room with the same color as the contents of the bucket is the sort of amateur synesthesia that saturates these pages.

Let's give it another name. Kahn has also released music under the name of Horsebladder, and in what I've heard of those recordings, any importance the words have seems lost to how hard it is to hear them, low in the mix, with artificial echo on top. On the printed page the voice makes static from its quiet and dislocation. The left turns of the lines here are not those of something being steered as it careens, so much as they belong to a thumb, pressed against a radio dial, pushing onto another band. That's not to say there's not a logic to it, for certainly the listener understands the urge. "To desire is to be unquiet / but my desire's to be silent."

The poems are many and their forms are varied. What reoccurs are rabbits, moms, and sex. Showing up one time each are a bland sandwich and self-love. The girls get proper names you may or may not intuit the private meaning of: Becky, Nicole, Annie, Monica, and Elsa.

"I may look like a real woman / but my narrating voice / has a long, white beard." That's from a poem called "YOU DON'T KNOW HOW TO MAKE LOVE." Every title here makes most sense in all caps. It could just be that, in isolation, each phrase seems much louder. Placed against each other are the moments of leakage where the room performs its rot, slow and sensual. You may have worn a velvet glove and pressed it against your face. It's much more difficult to type while wearing the same gloves. In privacy, function takes a precedent, but it's difficult to feel alone enough to act purely according to intention.

I am wearing cycling gloves. I'd like everyone
to put down their bran muffin for a
moment and consider the peace that comes
from staring into the eyes of a dog.
Everybody needs someone to be themselves
around. But the moonlight is not the moon.

Women In Public by Elaine Kahn
City Lights Publishers
ISBN: 978-0872866812
101 pages