The Concrete Arch: A Review of Key BridgeKey Bridge, Ken Rumble, Durham, North Carolina, Carolina Wren Press, 2007, 72 Pages, $14.95, Paper.
Ken Rumble in Key Bridge uses a concrete arch over cold waters to drive the reader north and south, back and forth, in and out of an historical and topographical “public” documentary to a personal “private” identity, revealing the central nervous system contained in the dorsal cavity of Washington D.C. The bridge is the spinal cord that connects, protects, and, in some instances, divides political and individual matters, hinting at racially charged tensions but not avoiding crime and sexuality. The power of Key Bridge is its capability to pan from an aerial-map-broad-view of a city and its surroundings into a magnified perspective of the personal, allowing raw juxtapositions emphasized by poetic repetitions, alliterations, and word play – poetry as Charles Olson suggests that is shaped by space and content rather than traditional form of meter.
Key Bridge is set as a journalistic observation, historical exploration, political traffic circle, and personal manifestation chronologically ordered; each poem is titled by dates (15.may.2000). There are some variations with the chronology, though. Occasionally, poems welcomingly intrude without interrupting the chronological sequence; linked moments separated by time. The poems are not detached from each other and the idea of isolated poems is challengeable.
An alternate examination of Key Bridge argues that it, perhaps, be one long poem sprinkled with mostly sequential dates. The peppered dates place the reader at a specific time; the poem’s specific facts and particulars are the episodic memories. Additionally stressing the idea of one long poem is the table of contents or lack of a table of contents. Titled A Way In, the table of contents displays a list of poetic lines, not poem titles, on specified pages and not necessarily consistent to the dates. The page containing A Way In is less a table of contents, though it does suggests that the reader may intersect the poem through particular poetic lines, but more a poem itself. A Way In may depict Olson’s projective verse in combining selected information to create charged juxtapositions, where the energy of the poem takes shape in the dissimilarities and contrasts, attempting to evade “closed verse.” The book, furthermore, characterizes Ed Sanders chronology. Beginning Key Bridge with this poem successfully enlightens the reader into the overall vision, the arc of the book.
“My statement is this: that poetry, to go forward, in my view, has to begin a voyage into the description of historical reality.”1 Ken Rumble undergoes this voyage on the Key Bridge. The historical and topographical aspects demonstrate an engaging use of observational and investigative information, creating raw juxtapositions, creating a charge, creating energy in the poem. Moreover, the distinction of the topographical or historical proves to stimulate the metaphorical “juice” as the spinal cord transmits neural stimulation to the brain. From 11.december.2002:
Silver Spring: is there a problem with crime?
Northeast: oh, it’s sketchy
Anacostia: that place is scary
Southeast: you don’t want to be there at night
Capitol Hill: it’s dangerous
Mount Pleasant: in a few years this neighborhood will be great
Adams Morgan: it’s scenic
Takoma Park: These are some great fixer-upper homes
The speaker incorporates opinions that juxtapose location. The observational opinions or inferences based on local insight capture a negative, crumbling, dangerous society. And these observations are set against historical and culturally diverse neighborhoods in D.C., demonstrating the power of this distinction. And, furthermore, following this section, racially and politically charged, the narrator denies the characterization of Amos and Andy; however, uses racially charged slurs to characterize stereotypical ideas.
His name is Amos, but I’m not Andy,
We jive talk about whitey, crackers honkies,…
And the historical aspect of the neighborhoods and the history of Amos and Andy produce a powerful political and historical element. The “juice” or energy spills over from the stimulating juxtaposition.
Ken Rumble acquires a success in his poetry also by incorporating personal, first person narratives. Though the narrative thread does not direct the essence of the poetry, it maintains the journal dynamic. The commonplace details are electric because of the intense contrasts. From 20.february.2001:
I have to get groceries
to cook dinner
to balance my checkbook
but here I am on my couch
watching a streetlight
writing about people
The weaving of the personal and the public controls the thread of the book. Like breathing, which is the first word of the first poem (breath), the fusing of these aspects is the power and keeps Key Bridge alive. The first poem, 15.may.2000, for example, opens with “D.C. city light crests on lampposts, transitions into Jenny the blond and her cotton dress/in ruffles on your body,” and recycles back to the “concrete city, cherry tree city, newspaper city.” Again, the power derives from the juxtaposition.
Unlike Olson (where adjectives are plagues that distance from the essence of the poem, where truths are more important that poetic language, where similes and metaphors are just a distraction on the energy of the poem), Rumble, in the vein of Sanders, successfully empowers the details and encompasses the energy with the details and poetic devices. Rumble’s play of repetition and alliteration brings a musicality and feeds the tensions. From 31.december.2002:
shadow squirrel shadow runs
shadow life in your shadow pants
shadow arms play shadow games
Reminiscent of Sanders, Rumble employs the use of I, a sense of time, and the adjective (metaphors and similes. In the poem 4.february.2001, Rumble incorporates poetic language like the purple-orange algorithm/of street lamps like blips across/a heart monitor…enhances the “juice” of the poem. Consuming all that is available from traditional to avant-garde devices is fruitfully evident.
Though Rumble’s approach may incorporate various traditional poetic devices, the form of his poetry, analogous to Olson, is apparently fashioned from the content and not by traditional mechanics. In an Olson sense, form is not predetermined, the poem inherits its form from the content. It is appropriate to show a complete poem, 15.june.2000
illuminant luminary dazzling
bright shining burning
glowing twinkling gleaming
incandescent sparkling transparent
burning city flickering
city flickering city
The city is a bowl spilling now
Every person here is still
here The buildings
overlap in exposure People
pass through people
who pass people
From above, the city
shifts like gasoline in a puddle
a chess game sped
The energy in Rumble’s poetry is the District of Columbia. It is the Key Bridge. It is the entanglement of historical, personal, political, topographical, and poetic devices. Ken Rumble is successful in Key Bridge because he employs investigative and documentary styles, electrifying those styles with personal observations, inferences, and opinions. At times the speaker is an entrance, a door jamb/from which to survey the room…at other times, a train in & out, whooshing…a punk with their angry hopeful/ songs/about social/justice…a local. not Amos and Andy…at times, the speaker portrays concern or negativity…the speaker is the observer…the participant. And the speaker shows that there is so much to love. This is not a historical document of Washington, it is an exciting poetics.
1. From Investigative Poetry by Ed Sanders, 1976