Rapid Review: “They Don’t Kill You Because They’re Hungry, They Kill You Because They’re Full” by Mark Bibbins (Copper Canyon Press, 2014)

Welcome to our second Rapid Review! The premise is simple: Our lovely blog correspondent Henry Heidger pulls up to a bookstore, walks in, and has an hour to read and study a book of poetry selected randomly from the shelf. Then, he writes about it here.

Heralded by many ‘best book lists’ as one of the top poetry collections of the year, They Don’t Kill You Because They’re Hungry, They Kill You Because They’re Full has proven to be a energized work in new poetry. For his 2003 collection Sky Lounge, Bibbins was awarded the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Men’s Poetry, and this collection surely doesn’t disappoint.

Powerful in its critique of modern society, They Don’t Kill You Because They’re Hungry, They Kill You Because They’re Full aims its laser directly at the issues of economic corruption, sexism, religious radicalism, societal racism, and homophobia. “Factory” is one of the collection’s darkest poems; it pairs a detached tone with a metallic cynicism not unlike factory machinery itself. The final passage of the poem, “a city / That was broken / That we had been / That we were broken / That was our city / This was our city / That was a song replaying itself in the dark,” shifts into cog-like syntax. There is brokenness in the poem, just as their is brokenness everywhere.

In this way, the collection unmistakably draws from politics, current events, and the media. There is a vast array of personas instituted throughout the collection — everyone from Medusa to Pat Robertson. The collection culminates with a series of poems which range in unconventionality.

Perhaps the most visually and structurally interesting poem of the collection is “Witness.” Part I of “Witness” is an insightful critique of the spread of religion through force, representative of modern religious radicalism. Part II, however, is a five-page list of words in alphabetical order. Each word ends with the suffix “-ness.” One word within the list is partially redacted and one is completely redacted. After reading Part II of “Witness,” some readers may be left mentally and visually tired, perhaps even somewhat unfulfilled—there are simply too many concepts within the list of words for some readers to realistically stop and interpret meaning for each. Upon finishing the poem, however, the reader understands; the poem, like a religion, embodies ideas that are each hidden at least partially from conventional view. It is up to the reader, rather than religious figures, to decide whether the ordeal of traversing the list brought meaning, as well as what exactly that meaning is.

Henry Heidger

Henry Heidger is a senior in high school from St. Louis, Missouri. He is a poet, writer, and critic. His work is forthcoming in Midwestern Gothic and The Scapegoat Review, and he is a cofounder of Young Poets of St. Louis. His favorite poets are Anne Carson, Owen Sheers, and John Berryman, and he plays the violin in his spare time. He writes the column "Rapid Reviews," which appears on the blog of The Adroit Journal monthly.

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