Metamorphoses: City Lights

Metamorphoses: City Lights

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Author: Evan Kennedy

Publisher: CIty Light Books (2023)

A pagan elegy for the U.S., superimposing ancient Rome over San Francisco, Evan Kennedy’s Metamorphoses seeks affirmation in change.

Metamorphoses springs from Ovid’s epic poem to explore the slipperiness of identity. In poems that shift registers from travelogue to elegy, from nature documentary to a simple record of the realities of daily life, Kennedy focuses on transformation, personal and collective, in an empire in decline, in a world transfigured by ecological upheaval.

Like a fever dream over Gibbon’s Decline and Fall, Kennedy has one foot in Ancient Rome and the other in contemporary San Francisco, acknowledging the “transformations of this city [he] loves” into “awful condos of steel and glass” alongside Victorian homes. The poet shores up fragments against this cultural decadence through the cultivation of a wry pagan mysticism, whether he’s offering devotions to Attis and Apollo, banishing Madonna from his pantheon, or placing twink emperor and notorious prankster Elagabalus in the East Bay. The book’s transformations even extend to its central conceit, as Kafka bursts into the proceedings to dispute Ovid’s claim to the laurel.

“Think of him as a circus Beckett or a Beckett circus or an early Dylan of the early twenty-first century. Think of the pleasure of language as it rises and as it ebbs. Think that you know what to expect and you will be surprised. Meet the author. Evan Kennedy. Say it again. Evan Kennedy. He is The One.”

Lisa Jarnot

"What stands out most in Evan Kennedy's poetry are its interlinks. What might appear at first as stylistic or syntactic innovation, and indeed is also that, turns back in order to link or relink the various delusory tenses (past, present, future) of a biomass of innocence or humility, Blakean maybe, or Wordsworthian."

–Bruce Boone

"Kennedy seems actively interested in having the writing be identifiable with everybody and anybody's experience. Yet Kennedy is in essence only thereby revealing the process beneath which his practice lies. Intent upon pushing such identification deeper than mere surface associations Kennedy embraces activities/routines that could belong to 'just about anyone, ' thereby shedding much of himself in search of the shared preoccupations of others in order to write anew the freshly forming ideas of self out onto the page."

–Patrick James