Paperback: 58 pages
Publisher: Lucky Bastard Press (2015)
Purchase @ Lucky Bastard Press
Review by April Michelle Bratten
Up the Staircase Quarterly recently nominated Les Kay’s poem “Pursuit” for the Best of the Net award. Noting that “Pursuit” is a lengthier poem in five parts, we were intrigued to discover that Kay decided to tackle “the long poem” in book form. Badass is a 50+ page singular poem that oftentimes uses strong language, drugs, and violence to delve into the licentious minds of a group of teenagers. The reader is then flash-forwarded into a more quiet and reminiscent adulthood.
Although Badass is a single poem, Kay did a crafty job in keeping his readers on their toes. The poem switched easily and often between a more traditional style, experimental arrangements, and prose form. In between these styles, Kay placed pages with sparse but poignant lines, such as on page 33, which only has one line—“Help me.” These transitions never seemed abrupt, but rather aided the flow of the poem, and allowed the reader to take a nice breath before digging back into the meat of the story.
Badass takes us on a chaotic tour through suburbia on the evening of Independence Day: “Others gathered on roofs/We had missed the stadium/Fireworks” (23). The avoidance of the crowd-led patriotism and celebration of country is ironically conducted through “typical”—perhaps slightly more extreme or “badass” in this case—white American teenage shenanigans. Empowered by their perceived night of independence, the group strikes out on their own, attempting to define their own freedoms.
After a drunken near-crash, the boys decide to abandon their pickup truck, only to eventually find it has been impounded, along with a prized possession:
into the impound lot
office. We lazed--
said? I can’t make this up--
through the unlocked for him
cradling the half-keg,
Like a stolen
Kay’s cleverly chosen style in this example, broken and short lines, is repeated throughout the book. The reader is compelled into experiencing this night in much the same way as the narrator remembers it—fragmented, but powerful scenes.
The narrator eventually looks back on this evening and contemplates how the lives of the group have significantly, however not surprisingly, transformed. For a few members, life has dealt a struggling hand. Kay conveys the narrator’s grief and guilt with skill:
While we scatter to other shores,
While we scatter ourselves,
While we wonder when the story ends,
When we remember the love for each other
(transient as jazz solos)
Where have I gone?
Have I betrayed you,
Myself, the others?
Remember, remember, remember.
Lest we forget, forget. (41)
Kay rose to the challenge of this complicated form of poetry and excelled in creating an interesting and compelling story in verse—one in which memories, even if bitter-sweet, are held in high esteem. Because, as Kay writes, “Fuck, they were beautiful.” (49)
Be a badass. Buy Badass by Les Kay.
LES KAY is the author of the full-length poetry collection Home Front (Sundress Publications, forthcoming 2016) as well as the chapbooks Badass (Lucky Bastard Press, 2015) and The Bureau (Sundress Publications, 2015). He is also a co-author of the collaborative poetry chapbook Heart Radicals (ELJ Publications, forthcoming 2016). His poems have been published widely in journals such as Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, The McNeese Review, PANK, Redactions, Santa Clara Review, South Dakota Review, Whiskey Island, and The White Review. Les holds a PhD in English and Comparative Literature from the University of Cincinnati with a primary emphasis on Creative Writing, an MFA from the University of Miami, and a BA from Carnegie Mellon University with a double major in Creative Writing and Professional Writing. With a decade of corporate experience as a proofreader, copy editor, and instructional designer as well as a decade of teaching experience in higher education, Les currently teaches writing as an Adjunct Assistant Professor in Cincinnati and volunteers as an Associate Poetry Editor for Stirring: A Literary Collection. Learn more at leskay.com