VIPER RUM by Mary Karr


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Flush with the success of her prose memoir, The Liars' Club, Kart confidently appends her misguided essay ""Against Decoration"" to her latest collection of tough-talking poems. Her half-baked notions about literary history and her somewhat simplistic aesthetic (""to stir emotion"") diminish an otherwise strong volume that covers much the same territory as her memoir: family dysfunction, alcoholism, suicide, and death-all redeemed somewhat by good sex (""Come spill yourself in me"") and an idiosyncratic notion of God that avoids the higher-power nostrums of the recovering. Karr slums among freaks and outcasts, hoping to shock with poems about a dwarf, an amputee, a graphic abortion, and other surgery, all in language full of rough images: skulls, snakes, razorblades, and guts. In a number of poems, Karr maintains a deathwatch for friends and family, later serving as a pallbearer, and also sorting through a dead woman's sweaters. Despite a dozen or so throwaway poems-little bits about a mistress's revenge, or a visit to the mall with her son-and her awkward infusion of classical allusions, Karr is capable of powerful work: Clever and unexpected rhymes illuminate her joyful vulgarity.

Pub Date: April 29th, 1998
ISBN: 081121382X
Page count: 96pp
Publisher: New Directions