Smote by James Kimbrell (Sarabane Books, 2015)

Review by C. Derick Varn

James Kimbrell embodies a pain and a region that I know too intimately, but he obviously feels it deeper and the personal tragedy that explodes into the book makes it more felt. Kimbrell teaches and Florida and grew up in Jackson, Mississippi–his language is infused with the racial tensions of poor white kid in a black neighborhood, the explosions of barbecue sauce and blood, and a manic tension that open in explodes in absurdity. Growing up in Georgia in the 1980s and 1990s, I know this world which Kimbrell is inhabiting. His visceral and frantic voice peeks out into teenage rutting, small acts of kindness and disappointment, crank-addled trunk drivers, houses that small of “critter piss.”

Kimbrell’s weakness and strength in the book is that he doesn’t let up, and his exploding verse renders him extremely vulnerable. When you think there is going to be a break in the personal and regional tragedy, you get more. It’s manic quality pushes you on while its pummeling you trains you at points. It mimics one a lot of the extreme of the emotions that Kimbrell is digging into.

Kimbrell verse starts out looking like fairly standard, if linguistically dense, free verse; however, as Smote continues, punctuation drops away a points, lines become more erratic, and there are often multiple columns in the poem in dialogue with each other. While not entirely original, it is particularly effective and makes the way pain in breaks the narrator down in a lot of the poem seem to be analogous in the form of the poems. Kimbrell’s poetic voice is dynamic, unrelenting, but in the end, incredibly, painfully honest.


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