Kevin Brown’s Liturgical Calendar is a poetry experience for any true lover of the lyric manipulation of the written word.
I know. That sounds like a pompous exaggeration. I assure you that the distinction is warranted. Read on. You’ll see.
First glances at the religiously styled cover ad title of the book can easily lead a reader to think that Brown’s work is a tome of flowery hymns best suited for a coffee table to weigh down starched doilies. However, the poems inside—from the first to the last—read like a diary of a man going through a complex year of heartache, while leaning on his family and memories to help reconcile the carnage. The memories intertwine with the relationship drama to accentuate the narrator’s struggle through the end of his relationship. The result is the feel of a sinking ship with a captain left aboard trying to grasp at anything to keep the big beast floating—and failing.
To tell his stories, the narrator uses imagery of things like food and tradition to reveal the human drama looming just outside of the focus of the poem. For example, the poem “Home Cooking” does such a thing by looking at food to reveal an affair.
…unable to eat
As I hear his laughter
From the voice mail you made me check,
Wanted me to hear his laughing wrapping you
Like a canned crescent roll…(“Home” 23-27)
The revelation comes after five stanzas of the narrator talking about the meals he has prepared for his lover over the years. What she loved and hated and how he compensated. But, amidst his attention to her tastes in food, he also tracks her changes in tastes in men—in their relationship. He ends the poem talking about food favorites, but the damage is done. Despite all he has done to please her, she can no longer savor what they had together.
Like those photos that concentrate on one object while slightly blurring the action in the background (lovers kissing as a busy freeway blurs by behind them, for example) Brown puts the focus of his poems on a central object, like the food in “Home Cooking” while so much is happening in the blurry background. With this technique, the poet captures the complexities of human relationship and how we remember those moments. Sometimes, focusing on the crescent rolls and pasta is an easier way to remember a breakup than thinking of the voicemail in central focus of the memory.
Brown isn’t done there. As the reader continues through this diary of sorts, and reaching the end, where the writer leaves notes explaining the parts of the liturgical calendar or events in the religious year attached to each poem. These note will send you back to the beginning, dear reader, where you find that Brown has a little more for us to learn in his poems. I’ll let you make that discovery on your own.
Don’t let the cover and title of Brown’s Liturgical Calendar fool you. It’s not your great aunt’s Catholic book of hymns. The book is a contemporary rendering of a year in a life, wherein the poet layers a secondary journey much deeper into human relationships than the first.