"Keen’s debut poetry collection arrives at the party already a little drunk, a bit raucous and talking a mile a minute, but the longer the night goes on, the more sense it seems to make. After all, he’s not out to hurt anyone; he’s just trying to figure out where it all went wrong for all of us."– Kirkus Reviews
Keen (Love Poems for Cannibals, 2013) portrays two days in the life of a paranoid king in this debut play.
King Able is the nominal ruler of his kingdom, but it’s vague how much power he actually possesses. It’s unclear, even, whether he has any subjects or courtiers; in Keen’s minimalist three-scene play, Able is the sole speaker, and the only other characters are masked men who spend much of the drama leering out from the background, seen by the audience but not by Able himself. Able’s powerlessness is on display as his royal requests go unanswered: “Where is the royal catalogue? (Pause. Flamboyance continues.) Where is the royal thermometer? (Pause.) Bring in the royal book of phrases. (Long pause.) Where is the court prognosticator? (Pause.)” The play highlights his insecurity during his daily radio address to the kingdom; he’s able to keep his composure during his prepared remarks, but when he’s unable to shut down the microphone afterward, his demeanor cracks into a paranoid rant that includes his suspicions that the queen is keeping him prisoner. He eventually decides to make an escape, but the trap he’s in—whether built by the queen or simply by the playwright—won’t release its prey so easily. Although the king’s frantic dialogue lies at the heart of the play, Keen’s precise set and stage directions are arguably more central to its themes, execution, and emotional resonance. The long silences, use of audio recordings, and simultaneous actions on different parts of the stage reveal the work as not a series of monologues but rather an intricately orchestrated puzzle. Readers are left to simply imagine the effect of all of this in a live venue, which strips the printed text of some of its power. Upon reaching the end of this short drama, they will want nothing more than to see a staged production of it, particularly its final moments. Still, for such a brief work, Keen manages to pack in an impressive amount of tension and implication, leaving readers to question who’s really pulling the strings.
A clever, creepy drama about paranoia and control.
Startling, cynical, satirical free verse about life among the postmodern ruins.
Keen’s debut poetry collection arrives at the party already a little drunk, a bit raucous and talking a mile a minute, but the longer the night goes on, the more sense it seems to make. After all, he’s not out to hurt anyone; he’s just trying to figure out where it all went wrong for all of us. With considerable energy and tightly coiled wit, Keen ranges across the political, spiritual and pop-culture landscapes only to find them all a little disorienting and largely bereft. “There is no sadness,” he writes, “But the fear of sadness. / There is no despair, / But the distraction from despair. / There is no suffering, / But the avoidance of suffering. / We’re living in bad times, / Biochemically speaking.” Regardless of where he looks, nothing essential remains. Love is sold “in bottles now, / and smells like aftershave,” Christ is “lost in all the traffic” and “so far away from now.” Even your sense of self is suspect: “In this cellular moment, / This eternity / Among strangers, / You see / Yourself / In bits / And / Pieces, / Impossible to describe.” Trapped by the postmodern condition and yearning for the teleologically secure time “before the world was shattered,” Keen’s narrators respond in seemingly the only way available—playing their own language games, answering absurdity with absurdity and papering over fragmentation with pastiche. Meditations on death are peppered with popular advertising slogans, and the apotheosis of Western civilization is reduced to Michelangelo’s David infested with maggots. With no certainty, even of the self, the poems join in the cannibalizing of culture, seeking irony in unexpectedly ironic situations. Amid the brutality arises humor, and Keen ably joins a long tradition in American avant-garde poetry of lampooning demagoguery with poems like “The Demystification of Henry Kissinger” and “Even at Night All Snakes Swallow Their Prey Whole: Looking Back at Arafat & Some of His Peers.” Supporting the politics, satire and social commentary is a more than capable, sometimes beautiful verse that relies heavily on repetition—from anaphora to choral refrains—and startlingly precise imagery (“sway-backed surgeons, / Peeling human skulls like eggs”) for great effect.
Thought-provoking, incisive and entertaining; a remarkably well-rounded debut.