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Aug 05

Blot Lit Reviews: My Beautiful Hook-Nosed Beauty Queen Strut Wave by Jeff Kass

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My Beautiful Hook-Nosed Beauty Queen Strut Wave, Jeff Kass
Dzanc Books, 2014
ISBN: 978-1936873678
Reviewed by Catherine Vlahos

As a feeble, shy girl who spent the majority of her youth inside her room plagued with allergies and back problems, I was skeptical after reading the first few poems of Jeff Kass’s My Beautiful Hook-Nosed Beauty Queen Strut Wave. What could I possibly have in common with these vivid snapshots of classic American boyhood, each memory carefully preserved in the shadowbox of Kass’s collection like treasured sports memorabilia?

The answer was honestly: not much—but what I ultimately related to, and what everyone ultimately can relate to when they read Kass’s poetry—is the ennui that comes with a safe, mundane, yet decidedly irreplaceable life.

Kass’s poems take the reader on a tour in a manner akin to Dickens’ Christmas ghosts (which is a little ironic considering Kass’s Jewish heritage), offering glimpses into the simple parts of living. We trade the dusty baseball diamonds of the past for getting married, having 2 sons, grading, and people watching—each poem helps us piece together exactly who Jeff Kass is and how he came to be that person.

That is what My Beautiful Hook-Nosed Beauty Queen Strut Wave (which I will affectionately abbreviate as MBHNBQSW from this point on), feels like; Kass reads less like your preconceived, stuffy notion of a poetry collection and more like tales heard at your neighborhood bar: glory days from a childhood of a different era, memories of pretending to be tougher than you were and are harsh in their retrospective re-tellings, memories of obnoxious family vacations, the list goes on.

However, Kass’s affinity for long sentences and tangents also remind me of a story you might hear at a bar for other reasons, and I admit this particular style took me a few pages to get used to. I believe his poems may truly shine when read aloud, so that we can feel the urgency of building tension and brewing passion beneath Kass’s husband-parent-teacher exterior and so compare it to our own experiences.

Particularly during “In the love poem to myself,” we see a familiar outlet for the longing we sometimes all have to simply get away from who we are—specifically to become a badass detective with a badass partner and beat up criminals à la Dirty Harry—anything to momentarily escape from grading papers and eating oatmeal for breakfast every day.

But, the most endearing quality of MBHNBQSW is the unmistakable tenderness and love Kass uses when describing the very life that he fantasizes about escaping from occasionally:

On Friday afternoons I watch my daughter swoop low to the ground and swing her field-
hockey stick in a manner that looks everything like a heron shaking
water from its wings and gliding above the public golf course like it
owns the land and all its breathing fauna, and it does own it. I don’t
regret my life of books and watching. I don’t regret my morning oatmeal.

Both Kass and his audience recognize the frustration that sometimes comes with living a morning oatmeal kind of life, but what connects all of us through My Beautiful Hook-Nosed Beauty Queen Strut Wave more than anything is the fact that none of us would trade it for the world.

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