Presenting engagements (including reviews) of poetry books & projects. Some issues also offer Featured Poets, a "The Critic Writes Poems" series, and/or Feature Articles.

Saturday, May 2, 2015



Selected Amazon Reviews by Kevin Killian, Edited by Brent Cunningham
(Hooke Press, Oakland, 2006.  Offered as free .pdf as of December 2014)

I’d heard of Selected Amazon Reviews by Kevin Killian when it was first released in 2006.  But it was Hooke Press’ as well as the author’s willingness in 2014 to release it as a free .pdf that reminded/encouraged me to write this review.  The book is now not just free but a true gift—it’s witty, hilarious, subversive and moving.  I hadn’t read the whole collection until I learned of its pdf release and the all of it affirms why I long had intended to check it out, though never got to it until now.  And I had wanted for years to read the whole thing because of the one review by Killian that I did see prior to the book—something that deserves to become a classic:

Gerber Tender Harvest 1st Foods Sweet Potatoes, Baby Food, 2.5 oz
Offered by Gristedes Supermarkets of New York Price: $0.79
Availability: Usually ships in 1-2 business days
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful:

Mmm-mmm good, March 19, 2006
“Tender Harvest” is one of Gerber’s best-selling lines, and I believe the sweet potatoes form their all-time best-selling specialty item. Why? Because of its tantalizing blend of organic goodness and a soft, piquant flavor to the root vegetables pureed within that makes you think of a big sweet-potato pie with all the fixings. You’ll be asking yourself, is there sugar in this? It’s as resolutely sweet as a twenties Irving Berlin standard, but if you search the ingredients on the label you’ll find zero added sugar, it’s all in the starch; and the starch itself has this robust bite, as though if you dipped your collar into the open jar, it would emerge forever crisp and dapper, suitable for office wear.

I first was introduced to Gerber as a wee laddie, when Mom never dreamed I’d ever graduate to anything but baby food, for I would sit in my high chair and refuse to eat anything but mashed-up Gerber’s vegetables. If Mom, Dad, or our extended family attempted to sneak something else onto my tray, wham! It would hit the opposite kitchen wall. Back then, sweet potatoes were not on every baby’s bill of fare, they were thought to be too tough for baby’s delicate stomach, but since then stronger minds have prevailed. Let’s face it, a baby will eat a license plate if it wants to, and many in our native populations believe in feeding an infant a tiny amount of dirt every day, believing in the old saw that we all have to eat a peck of dirt before we die.

Disappointingly, gift wrapping is not available with this item, so if you order it, be prepared for just getting the plain jar with no fancy party flavor to it. However, the label is attractive, as the inner baby inside of you will, no doubt, be letting you know as your tongue and front teeth attempt to gnaw it off the jar.

That is just stellar writing!  Its merits showcase themselves—I don’t need to blather on and on about it though I could.  But I will cite the delicate balance such writing achieves as it willingly abides by its context: an Amazon review (indeed, several of the reviews include notes on how many readers found said review “useful”).  One is tempted with this—and other reviews—to think the author is pulling the reader’s leg but (and as confirmed by Brent Cunningham in his Editor’s Introduction), Killian is sincere: if he says he likes something, he really genuinely does.

At the time of the book, there were 1,241 reviews by Kevin Killian on ranging over movies, books, CDs and various objects. Cunningham provides an interesting introduction by contextualizing the project partly in the high vs. low cultural debate—one of those debates that, to me, threatens to become old-fashioned given the speed with which the internet, social media, et al makes everything almost equally valid as a topic.  I say “threatens to become” yet such reductiveness may not yet become a total reality as long as intellectualism retains its merit.  

What was more surprising was learning how Killian began writing these Amazon reviews.  It’s a mark of our times that, upon learning of these writings, I had assumed he intentionally created it as a project … and I actually had given Killian props for thinking to use Amazon’s comments sections as a publishing framework—I thought that brilliant!  But that’s not how it unfolded—here’s an excerpt from the Authors Introduction:

And then, in November 2003, a heart attack weakened my defenses and forced me onto a regime of very few fun things except for the prescription drugs they gave me to stop this or that. I lost the need to write. And I was fine with that. The Wellbutrin made me permanently happy; I could carry very little, not even a grudge. Dodie did my writing for me. I figured that, hey, I had written a whole shelf full of books, did the world need to hear more from me? If they wanted to read something by me, they could just pluck a volume off the shelf. In the hospital, a friend, the poet Rodney Koeneke, bought me the new novel by a detective writer we both enjoy. And somehow I managed to write down what I felt and put it up on Amazon: December 28, 2001. However, I couldn’t do much more than that; I was feeling too giddy. Criticism seemed stupid, beneath me. Is this how people felt in the 1960s? I went back to work, spooking everyone around me with my insensate grin and reduced frame.

But little by little I started to fret. What I was feeling, I think, was the desire to write, snatched from under the coverlet of feel-good-drug happiness. Or was it the desire to criticize, as I sometimes suspect? Whichever, writing for Amazon was the key (for me). By April 2004 I was writing away, often twice a day, commenting on this, that, or the other, whatever book I was reading, whatever DVD was in the machine. It’s surprising how many texts you can actually experience in a lifetime, or, say, in the span of a year. This was my regimen, my therapy, if you will, and I kept it pretty quiet, not telling anyone what I was doing, though I wasn’t exactly hiding under a cloak of anonymity. I was signing my own name—which isn’t always the smartest thing to do, I guess. And after awhile, I built up the strength in my writing muscles and continued to work in other areas (completing a novel, writing plays, poetry, different sorts of critical work, etc.).

Kudos to Hooke Press for recognizing that a selection from Killian’s writings deserved to be published in book form.  The all of it is worth reading but here are excerpts from three of my favorites (the ending sentence of the first review is arguably my favorite line in the book): 

The Street of Clocks: Poems by Thomas Lux

This volume took six years to write, and it shows in the repeated thrusts and mechanical coughs of the verse style. Contrary to previous reviewers, I did not find Lux’s language to be always specific. Sometimes it seemed vague, as though he were trying to describe dreamlike experiences or states of feeling for which language does not suffice. Have you ever read the German poet Stefan George? Sometimes, or so it seems to this reviewer, George was born again as Thomas Lux in upstate New York or wherever it was and suffered through the typical milkman’s son’s life until he found Sarah Lawrence the way George found his Maximin. His writing is filled with violence, like “Rommel’s Asparagus,” the punji-like sticks which ripped the underbellies out of enemy pilots.

All in all, he should stop it with the long hair; it makes him look like he was part of ABBA.

John Gardner: Literary Outlaw by Barry Silesky

When Charles Johnson uses the word “legend” to describe his late friend, he’s being loyal, but it’s a terrible debasement of the word “legend.”

Then there's this third example:

Black & Decker BDL310S Projected Crossfire Auto Level Laser
Price: $99.00
Availability: Usually ships in 24 hours
13 of 16 people found the following review helpful:

The Answer to a Nightmare, March 28, 2005
Did you ever get yourself in a jam when hanging a picture, and no matter where you put up the nail in the wall, the picture still wound up looking crooked, even from far across the room? We had this nightmare happen to us on Wednesday, and after a few temper tantrums I remembered that we had the Crossfire Laser still sitting in its box from Christmas under the stairs.

It didn’t take a minute to figure out how to use the thing, and as you are aware, twin lasers appear and trace any 90 degree angle you like. You’ll be surprised that you won’t need any chalk (or ballpoint pen) to put the mark on the wall, and it measures perfectly the distance between the floor and ceiling with ease, without having to squint to see the bubble line in the tube as we used to do for a level—in that tube that always looked like an oral thermometer. This one is far less messy. (As a sidelight, we found indeed that the reason the picture always hung crooked is because the frame itself wasn’t perfectly rectangular but instead was made in a slightly rhomboid shape! Who would have guessed it, and without the Black & Decker Crossfire we still would have been kicking ourselves.)

I can see using this for so many things that needed doing around the house, inside and out. It’s easy to understand, it’s lightweight, and it’s accurate, almost scarily so. It’s the answer to a common household nightmare.

Out of (Amazon) context, this review’d be admirable deadpan flash fiction!  

Stay healthy, Kevin Killian!  We want more books from you!


Eileen Tabios recently released an experimental auto-biography, AGAINST MISANTHROPY: A LIFE IN POETRY, as well as her first poetry collection published in 2015, I FORGOT LIGHT BURNSForthcoming later this year is INVENT(ST)ORY which is her second “Selected Poems" project; while her first Selected THE THORN ROSARY was focused on the prose poem form, INVEN(ST)ORY will focus on the list or catalog poem form. She does not let her books be reviewed by Galatea Resurrects because she's its editor (the exception would be books that focus on other poets as well).  She is pleased, though, to point you elsewhere to recent reviews of her work.  Her poetry collection, SUN STIGMATA (Sculpture Poems), received a review by Joey Madia in New Mystics Review and Zvi Sesling in Boston Area Small Press and Poetry Scene.  More information at 

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