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spacer.gif   CARLI REVIEWS KITZIS
Posted by : cj on Monday, December 06, 2004 - 11:31 AM
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Chicago Poetry Archives: Click Headlines Cultural Commonalties Which Transcend National Boundaries

Lee Kitzis's Plainfield Follies and Israel to Prague, Reviewed by Vittorio Carli
Many classic works of literature have attempted to capture the essence of great cities. Rainer Maria Rilkes collection, A Poet in New York, captures the sad German poet's reaction to living in the big apple, and it also reflects the sense of isolation that a poet abroad can feel. Eliot's The Wasteland creates a frightening portrait of early 20th Century London as a modern day version of hell. Langston Hughes's Harlem depicts a city poised to explode in chaos before the Civil Rights Movement.

Lee Kitzis's engaging new book of poems, Plainfield Follies and Israel to Prague (Writers Club Press), is also in this city celabatory tradition, and it's a travelogue of sorts. It follows the poet's intercontinental journeys, and it captures his observations for posterity in an artful manner.

Lee Kitzis's book is actually composed of two smaller works with separate titles. "Plainfield Follies" (which is dedicated to and is a fine tribute to the late, great performance poet, Frank Bonomo) is set in North American Cities such as Plainfield, Vermont. Ocean City, New Jersey, New Hampshire, and Montreal, Canada. In contrast, "Israel to Prague" deals with Lee's travels in Europe, including sections on Prague in the former Czechoslovakia, and also Israel.

After reading both parts, the reader is struck by cultural commonalties which transcend national boundaries. It seems that people are the same everywhere, even when they're different.

Much of the book is written in a mature Neo-Beat style, which sometimes incorporates street slang, jazz references, and many allusions to eastern mysticism and important places in Judaic history. The book is remarkable in the way that it smashes together phrases and condenses experiences into strong bursts of imagery.

The poem "Sexbomb" compares the sexual power of the narrator and a woman to the explosive power of the nuclear weapons that were dropped during WW II. The exaggerated comparisons in the poem are almost as bold as John Donne's metaphysical conceits. This is evident from the lines, "Big screw bomb / explosion your thighs / killed the lights / your breath broke/the mirrors." These lines are reminiscent of Wanda Jackson's great rockabilly song Fujiyama Mama because it captures sex's power to disturb and decenter. However, the mirror reference seems to imply that sexual abandon can also result in a temporary loss of self. The style of the poem is spare and lean, but it avoids choppiness.

The poem "The City that Beauty Sleeps" is about Montreal. It's like William Carlos Williams's "Paterson" because the city is spoken about as if it were a character or conscious presense. The author seems to both admire and pity the women who are part of the city. The poem states: "Montreal / your women / are too beautiful for me / It hurts to walk / down the street / In their short-cut dresses / their faces hide pain." In this poem, the Montreal women are unknowable or impenetrable as steel, but the poem ends with, "I try to look into each of their windows and find a light on every floor"

In "Prague, Czech Republic" the narrative voice marvels at a modernized mechanical heaven, and it also celebrates the hustle and bustle of big city life.

Jazz seems to be a common reference point throughout this book, and many of the similes or metaphors relate to some aspect of the greatest American art form. In "Poem for the Keys" the sound of a classic typewriter becomes the sound of bebop. "Jazz poem in the Streets " asserts that jazz "flows the streets / circulates the masses," in Israel, a place most people probably don't associate with jazz.

The final poem in this book, "Masada Meditation," reminded me a bit of Percy Shelley's "Mont Blanc" because it captures Lee's feelings of awe and wholeness when he visited a sublime mountain. Incidentally, Masada is important because it was the place where the Jews had a last stand against the Romans before the fall of Israel. The poem ends the book with a hopeful moment of transcendence, and it's a perfect conclusion to an impressive debut.

Editor's Note: Lee Kitzis's work can be purchased on line by clicking on the Barnes and Noble banner below, or through Amazon.com.

--Vito Carli



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Note: Vito looks at Lee's "Plainfield Follies and Israel to Pragugue."

 
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