a mini-review of Mad for Meat by Kevin Simmonds

I usually don’t review books that haven’t been published yet, but I’ve been hearing buzz about Kevin Simmonds’ forthcoming Mad for Meat from Salmon Poetry. Also, Kevin is coming to Hawai’i in September for a couple of readings–and after reading his manuscript, I may have to attend all his events.

Kevin Simmonds has an impressive bio:

KEVIN SIMMONDS is a writer, musician and performance artist originally from New Orleans. He edited Collective Brightness: LGBTIQ Poets on Faith, Religion & Spirituality (Sibling Rivalry Press) and Ota Benga Under My Mother’s Roof (University of South Carolina Press), a collection of poetry by the late poet and writer Carrie Allen McCray-Nickens. He wrote the music for Wisteria:Twilight Songs from the Swamp Country, a performance collaboration with poet Kwame Dawes that made its European debut at the Poetry International Festival at London’s Royal Festival Hall and was the subject of a BBC documentary. He also wrote the music for the Emmy Award- winning documentary HOPE: Living and Loving with HIV in Jamaica. He has received awards, fellowships and residencies from Atlantic Center for the Arts, Cave Canem Foundation, Fulbright, Jack Straw and San Francisco Arts Commission. He received the Bachelor of Music at Vanderbilt University and the PhD in music at the University of South Carolina. He divides his time between Japan and San Francisco. Mad for Meat is his first collection of poetry.

His bio sounds many of the themes in his first collection: the South, Sexuality, Spirituality/Religion, African American culture and history, Travel, Family, Cross-cultural relationships. With Kevin’s background in music, I was excited to hear all these themes might be made into rhythm and music.

Mad for Meat opens with the “Gift,” which I quote in full:

 

He saw a galaxy

in meat

 

& from all over

they brought their cuts

 

laid them down

for him to divine

 

iridescent foil or the way

it locked into bone

 

No one knows

 

But he saw car brakes

jam

 

unresponsive as lungs

in a grandson’s chest

 

as the inhaler lies

miles away

 

on the bathroom sink

 

& there were the winning numbers

shining from a mutton shank

 

Once, he bent down

left ear listening

 

to a loin

as if through a trapdoor

 

The poor

or misinformed

 

would bring turnips

or misshapen potatoes

 

He tried with those

& gills of fish

 

but could never find

the pulse

 

As I read each poem, the pages began to seem like thin cuts of meat, and I was being asked to listen to each word as if through a trapdoor–to divine meaning through the veins and fats and muscles and bones of language. Besides language being a kind of meat, there are other kinds of meat in Simmonds’ work. The meat of a father’s body, the meat of lovers’ bodies, the meat of the speaker’s own racialized body, the meat of other black bodies. The pulsing of all these bodies. The visceral imagery of all these bodies.

One that struck out to me for its timeliness is titled and location is titled “A Sentence.” The subject of the poem is the 2009 murder of Oscar Grant by a white transit police officer, Johannes Mehserle, in Oakland. Mehserle was sentenced to 2 years, and was just released a few months ago. I also read this poem with the current effects of police brutality in London: 

Another powerful poem, “After Katrina,” focuses on how one is subjected to devastation and the objects that are lost in that devastation. Like many of Simmonds’ poetry, this particular piece captures not only his sense of musicality, but also his gift for creating memorable images:

Throughout Mad for Meat, Kevin touches on a wide ranges of themes–some of the most powerful poems are about interpersonal relationships. Despite this, Kevin also manages to write some memorable persona poems, entering into the bodies of famous African American figures. To me, what unites all these elements is the focus on bodies, as objects and subjects.

I want to end this mini-review by quoting one last poem–a poem about two of my favorite subjects: food and catholicism. The poem is titled, “Bad Catholics,” and begins with an epigraph from a newspaper article: “Results from a McGill University study, released yesterday, suggest that people — men, anyways — become less aggressive at the sight of meat.” Clearly, the study did not survey a group of Pacific men around one can of Spam. Lol. Anyways, I love this poem and I look forward to seeing Kevin’s book in print and meeting him when he comes to Honolulu. The poem, in full:

 

We kept the butcher’s block bloody

through Lent

 

Calm coming over us like gravy

at the sight of pot roast

 

A stew of slowed cognition

we were blunt in our surrender

 

Five boys & a husband

mom knew to do this decades ago

 

& kept an eye on the butcher

his tender wrists & special discounts

 

whenever dad made the trip alone

to bring home the lamb

 

swaddled in white paper

& marked

8 thoughts on “a mini-review of Mad for Meat by Kevin Simmonds

  1. Hi–Thank you for this post. It was a good one. It convinced me to immediately pre-order it off Amazon.com.

    P.S. Your generosity in quoting the poems and your analysis are really effective here. That sort of synthesis is rare.

  2. thanks so much steve for your kind words. it means a lot coming from you. hope you enjoy the book as much as i did!
    c

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