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That That

  • Image: Image
  • Book Type: Poetry
  • by: Ken Mikolowski
  • Date Published: April 2015
  • ISBN-13: 978-0-8143-4065-3
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 71pp
  • Price: $14.99
  • Review by: Benjamin Champagne
Haiku is excessive. What luxury. In five mere words, Ken Mikolowski can do what the ancients needed seventeen syllables to accomplish in his book That That. Take the poem “No more / and / no less.” This says it all. It says everything that is needed to be said. It is a commentary on the state of the art and on the personal lives that we all carry in ourselves. Math uses simplification to produce elegant equations. In this same vein, Mikolowski uses reduction to get to the heart of the issue. These poems take on enormous universal equations by mimicking tiny proverbs. It is a great read for the age of Tweets. It reaches hearts and minds with the wisdom of Solomon using the tactics of a Facebook advertisement.

Mikolowski has a history that shows up front and present in his poems. He lived in the Cass Corridor in the 1960s. Because of a lack of funds and capital, he pressed poems with an old fashioned letterpress. Often unbound, he set the letters of each and every poem by hand, slathered it with ink, and pressed it to the page. He pressed poems for the likes of Allen Ginsberg and many other notable poets from the 1960s. The race riots of ‘67 and the downfall of the Detroit economy inspired a lot of Mikolowski’s early work. As a professor at the University of Michigan, it is easy to see the influence of method in That That. Each poem works as a technique or lesson for inducing wonder.

Poems like “Palindrome / I love you / you love me” say enough. They are really easy to digest. It is like health food for the reader, restoring the sense of wonder to a language that is easily dissolved in texting and tweeting. John Cassavetes, the pioneer film director, is on record saying that love is the only story worth telling, or at least the only one interesting enough. This rings throughout Mikolowski’s sparse poems. He boils the elements of life and love into snippets of truth which say everything that needs to be said about a subject.
I don’t think of you
for hours
This can be interpreted many ways. Does Mikolowski mean that it is a relief not to talk to ‘you,’ or that he thinks of ‘you’ so much that it is an odd occasion when he doesn’t? The enjambment of the poem gives it a relaxed tone. The emphasis is always striking. The line “for hours” becomes a space in time that is less like hours and more like physical space; “for hours” is more akin to eternity. The reader is aware of Ken’s method and subjects, his perspectives on relationships whether it be art or people or time itself and through this art can be found. By stripping away all of the clutter, the thing itself can really shine, which points out his next theory, that “Anything can be art / not everything is.”

Much closer to the heart of Mikolowski’s meaning is:
Wouldn’t it be wonderful
if the whole thing
were like the good part
Why do we waste time on any of the fluff? Let’s get right to the good stuff. These entire poems are erected and finished within three lines. They contain everything needed to provide revelation and center the soul. Above all, the poems function at the proverbial level. Poetry is supposed to guide us in our search for life’s answers. Art is both the dazzle and excess of existence, and simultaneously the bread and bones that give life to life. These poems seek to burn the fat off of our very souls. The good part can be any part, but it most certainly is not every part. Sometimes palindromes aren’t actually the words themselves, but the actions of lovers. And more often than not art can be found without thinking for hours. Ken Mikolowski’s life is full of meaning:
The meaning is somewhere
so we go everywhere
And so is ours.
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Review Posted on May 04, 2015

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