Review of The Spider Sermons by Robert Krut, BlazeVOX Books, 2009.
By Elizabyth Hiscox
This collection is some easy sermonizing. It’s zesty, utterly earnest at points, but worldwise and worthwhile. As Laurie Kutchins blurbs: “Robert Krut delivers a precipice city, a galactic (but not preachy) spider, a narrator who sometimes wears a sandwich board.” These poems spin a rock and roll lullaby for heavens that are under serious contemplation.
The universe Krut creates in The Spider Sermons is situated in the philosophical kitsch of a modern life. A close look at spiritualism, but with “Sympathy for the Devil on the jukebox to great effect.” The book opens with a Dylan [Bob] quote, there is Hendrix, quite a few radios tuned in and turned up, and a bit of the bad-boy gone reflective throughout. The literary type too: Johnson and Burkhard warrant notice and these homage poems don’t compromise Krut’s own slant:
I do not know what not
little yellow notebook of rules,
gone missing, if I ever had it at all.
There is a secret I’m bound to
let slip, write on a sugar packet,
pass across the table.
The light bulb eye sockets of the waitress
shine white light in my glass,
saying I’m sorry, I’m sorry—
there’s a mosquito frozen
into one of ice cubes—
I’m really sorry.
The closing poem, “Hood Ornament Radio Signal,” serves as a kind of au revoir: a parting phrase that invites a return of sorts to the impulses of the collection:
I’m going to melt
a cross, a statue of the Buddha, and the arms of Vishnu
into a hood ornament of a naked woman with wings of fire,
set it on my car and follow it like a compass. […]
This sense of serious play– a smug wonder at the hard, amusing truths of humanity and eternity – is this collection’s greatest gift. The guidance systems we’ve been given are off and our collective naïveté is at once tragic, and a gut-buster.
Formal elements and the fingerprints of careful craft are shot straight through. The collection’s third poem is the heady sestina “A Thousand Pieces, Dancing” with sugar and neon to the sixth power. “Another Spider Song” slant rhymes its way: “There’s a sheet of burning ice/ and it’s moving up the coast./ Leaving ghosts in sight/ looking just like tainted frost.” And Krut pulls it off. These poetic footholds are valuable; the legacy they infuse in the collection. But, ultimately, the most affecting are those poems in this book that slip to the side. Fool one as freeform. Become the improvisation around the loose spine of language, as with “What Beckian Said” or “Tenth and Northside Arrival”: “[…]I don’t know—/ but my answer is this, and it is final: / I head to the jukebox, slip in a quarter,/”
There’s also a charm to the pieces that cast a sweetly outdated vision of the future as their laughably endearing touchstones. Why don’t more poets have the common sense to write poems like “Gravitypants Rocketboy” or “The Clumsy Love Robot”?
“I’ve been feeding my robot human hearts
in an effort to have him
understand the formula that posits
love is cumulative, not chronological.”
Digest the collection this way too. Read it out of order, sinking your teeth in, letting the poems build up and accumulate on your chin, in your belly, in your arteries, and in your muscle memory as you read aloud. Broken into four sections there’s symmetry and a resonance in the structure of the book and the deploying of the poems, but the chronological approach doesn’t do them justice. Abandoning the cover-to-cover on this one let Krut’s particular style rise to the surface: the quirky mixed with the questing.
And it is that aforementioned “cumulative” effect that is the real hook of this book. The flipside to the grit beneath the verse’s fingernails –the talk of tailpipes and objects of the everyday – is the caress of real affection and attention. A woman is in these pages, a deity too, and moments of daring that strike one as quiet truths: “It seems the less I believe in God, / the more biblical life around me becomes.//”
Robert Krut is the author of The Spider Sermons (BlazeVOX, 2009). His poetry has appeared in a wide variety of journals, including Blackbird, The Mid-American Review, Barrow Street, and more. His poem, "The Relativity Tree" appeared in HFR #32. In addition, his chapbook, Theory of the Walking Big Bang was released in 2007 by H-ngm-n Books. He teaches at the University of California at Santa Barbara, and lives in Los Angeles.