Tap Out

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 05 Apr 2019

Member Reviews

When teaching poetry, I often notice students’ interest in writing long, winding narrative poems. I teach a variety of forms, but ultimately allow them creative freedom when composing their own poem. Inevitably, the majority choose a form of their own invention, a lengthy narrative structure where they breathlessly describe a breakup, a childhood memory, or a trauma of some kind. They want to tell their stories, and they seem to find solace in this malleable structure.

I read these poems with interest. After all, it is a common experience to have memories that won’t stay put in a single neat, delineated description, experiences that seep into the rest of our lives, coloring every experience and changing our perspectives.

Edgar Kunz, in his recent poetry collection, Tap Out, has a similar eagerness for telling his story, letting the narrative seep slowly from one poem to the next, repeating characters, events, and images. The strength of this method is that it allows Kunz to emphasize the memories which provide a sort of structure to his life. For example, a childhood friend, Daryl, shoots himself, and this memory reverberates throughout the entire collection. Sometimes Daryl is simply, “Mikes brother Daryl,” other times he is a loudmouthed kid trying to impress girls, bragging about girls. But this memory, “The way your brother Daryl took himself out of the world,” is the vital cord to these other memories of this character.

There are some weaknesses in this collection. Poems like “Dry Season,” patch past experiences with the narrator’s current travels and the pastoral elk watching in Colorado. The poem is trying to tell us a story, but it is lost in the patchwork of its own images.

Kunz’s overall vision of these poems, however, sing with clarity. They emphasize the tragedy belonging to place, to one’s origins, of regional experiences that ring out beyond their seemingly humble roots.

Thank you to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Mariner Books and NetGalley for the advance copy of this title.
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Reminded me of of Bukowski a little if I squinted.  These poems are a slice of working class Americana; poignant, full of regret and filled to the brim with grit.  Relevant for today's times.

Highly recommended.

With thanks to Netgalley and the publisher to the ARC.  Will cross post to Goodreads.
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This was very good at conjuring specific shades of sadness, regret and longing, and it felt really cohesive. I enjoyed it, but for me it was missing some meat- it just didn't hit me at my core the way I always hope poetry will. Still worth reading!
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This book takes you on a tour through the middle class life. It is relatable and easy to read through but I was left wanting more.
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Gritty ? Yeah, it is but I don't know if I consider this book as a collection of poems. For me, it read more like a collection of short stories.
I enjoyed it but it wasn't what I expected it to be.
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This collection focuses on the daily trials of a working class, blue-collar family in America. 

His storytelling was well done and his descriptions were very detailed. However, all of the poems seemed to wander off without any definitive point or end. Which, perhaps was the poet’s intention, but it left me wanting more from this collection.
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This collection of poetry may have brought me back to reading poetry books again. I loved this book. I was drawn to this book by the cover. Those hands. They tell a story that I wanted to read.

These are not your typical poems, they are more prose than not. They are mini-stories. We find recurring characters. This book is masculine. He deals with his Father, Brother, his friends, and we know the person speaking is a man.

This is blue collar working class. This is gritty. This is getting out and moving on and wondering, did you do the right thing? 

I loved this book.
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Everyone needs to read this. It gives such an eye opening view to the lives of so many in the world. You will be sucked in and truly feel for others.
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Poetry as abrupt and jarring as broken bone.  Unless you can appreciate lives lived at the hard, ugly edges and find the brutal beauty in humanity that shows up drunk and loud, spitting and stealing, then stay away.  But here’s the thing.  This is humanity that won’t tap out, no matter what.  Hitting bookstores on March 5!

Full Disclosure: A review copy of this book was provided to me by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt / Mariner Books via NetGalley. I would like to thank the publisher and the author for providing me this opportunity. All opinions expressed herein are my own.
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I am rating this not on my actual personal enjoyment of it, but on what I think it deserves as a poetry collection. The poems are almost more like stories, and I found myself totally sucked in even though I could not have had a life further from this one. 

The poet writes about blue-collar life and leaving home and his father (there is a ton about his father for real) and it's very impressive the way he makes you feel these lives. There's one about someone's dirty, hard-working hands that I adored (I assume it and the general vibe of the collection inspired the amazing cover). Here's an excerpt from one in which he discusses cutting coupons with his step-mom:
shoulder to shoulder on the kitchen floor and the afternoon
stretching on into no kind of heaven
I could have understood then. Of peeling
linoleum and the drone of interstate traffic.
Of WIC checks, name-brand knockoffs, the gray
stamps card made to pass as a regular Visa.
Where we are allowed to know exactly what we
can have, and keep. And what it will cost.

The way he writes, you can see the scene and feel it even if you've never experienced it, and I love that so hard. There's so much originality here, and while I wouldn't necessarily have expected to like this based on the blurb, I really did. It also almost feels nostalgic? It reminds me of The Sandlot. But that may very well be me feeling nostalgia not because it's antiquated but because it's a time and place I've never experienced. The poem which inspired the name, Tap Out, is truly gorgeous. There's not a line I could pull out to show why, but the idea of little kids in small-town America wrestling, telling their friends to tap out, is such a familiar image and he mixes it with an unfamiliar (tragic) story and it's just so good. 

*Quote is from an unfinished review copy and may not match the final version. Thanks so much to NetGalley for advance access to this collection in exchange for an honest review.*
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Tap Out: Poems by Edgar Kunz is a collection of poetry that reflects the America many do not want to see but seems to be growing. Kunz's work has received fellowships and awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, the MacDowell Colony, the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, and Stanford University, where he was a Wallace Stegner Fellow.

Kunz brings the growing blue-collar hardships to poetry. What Springsteen did with The Ghost of Tom Joad and much of his early work and what Stephen Markley did with his prose work Ohio now has a verse companion. Simple writing with explicit messages taken from what could be life in many places like Cleveland, Detroit, and the host of many broken manufacturing towns. Growing up, one does not see the poverty;  it is accepted as normal. Growing up in the late 1960s and 1970s I could relate to much of the normalcy of the life of the characters -- the older kids, drugs, the sense of adventure, and somehow thinking this was the best life. It is later that we see the decay in society, people, and the city itself. The toll is reflected in several examples. An alcoholic father who destroyed his family, and also the father who works harder than he should have to:

There's no one left to see his hands
lifting from the engine bay, dark, and gnarled
as roots dripping river mud

no one to see how his palms -- slabs of calluses

The poet sees the damage of drinking slipping into his life in an almost predestined fashion. As the world closes in on working people there can be bits of hope and even small victories.  Kunz captures an entire class of America in their darkest hour.  His writing seems biographical and without a forced hand.  The writing flows as if speaking from experience.  There is no hyperbole, only honesty of the people and their situation -- it may not be pretty, or even legal, but it is an adaptation to the environment.  There is a chance for some to escape and for some just to endure.  A hard-hitting, authentic, straight forward portrayal of the people who helped build America and now find themselves the working poor.
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