Ken Holland reviews American Mythology, poems by Raphael Kosek

Ken Holland reviews American Mythology, poems by Raphael Kosek; Brick Road Poetry Press; ISBN:  978-0-9979559-9-6

American Mythology, an accomplished collection by Raphael Kosek, begins with a poem describing a Georgia O’Keeffe painting, one of a number of poems throughout inspired by O’Keeffe.  The first line is “You are not a flower but a firestorm”.  And therein lies one of the many strengths of this collection by Kosek:  precise, alliterative, and highly evocative.  This same poem also instills nature, and by extension, art itself with a recognizable soul…a soul that the poet assures us can be grasped and retained.  Then in the very next poem we’re transported from O’Keeffe to Annie Oakley’s ghost, as we get our first real insight into the breadth of the poet’s ambition—the fulsome scale of American mythology.

From a poem grounded in the drowning of a English immigrant in Provincetown Harbor in 1620, to Mary Todd Lincoln, to a road trip with her daughter, Kosek never lets us forget it’s the individual who’s her subject, the individual who is the substrate of the mythology that’s arisen over the centuries of America’s founding and evolution.  And once she’s grasped on to that individual, she then imbues those poems with her beautifully rendered language and metrical flow.  While the poetry itself often advances toward some form of redemption—for her subjects, for the country, and on occasion for the poet herself, as in this line from “Through the Window of the Valley Medical Building in January”: “When did evening come/without you noticing—its cool/hand on your shoulder/making some necessary adjustment?”

In counterbalance to American grace, there are such poems as “Prophet”, whose last lines are: “Ease into your skin,/pile the sandbags,/the war’s not over./We are the war.”  And in “April’s Kitchen”, Kosek deftly balances these disparate elements into its own contradictory (and yet beautifully plausible) expression: “There is no stopping the burgeoning blooms…the murderous beauty of bright things.” And in the title poem, the poet again pushes the American myth up against the dogged bounds of reality with this line: “savor the hard edge,/feel the blade,/keep your legs tight and bend into/the wind which blows every which way/but where you figured.”

The reader of this finely honed collection will assuredly be left “as if they had just stepped/off a ship from some far place/into the pitch and pith of this earth”.

Ken Holland, poet and Pushcart Nominee is the winner of the 2019 Stephen DiBiase Poetry Competition.

American Mythology; poems by Raphael Kosek; Brick Road Poetry Press; ISBN:  978-0-9979559-9-6

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