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PERSONATIONSKIN by Karl Parker
Publication Date: November 2009
What People are Saying about PERSONATIONSKIN:
Hilarity in the vault! A man without a face and an ever-shifting position on things: sheer terror and comedy follow where "everywhere, divides."
To read Karl Parker's poems is to revel in the tremendous reach of a mind that, more than any other I've read (more than John Clare, more than Khlebnikov or Kharms or Huerta) can render me awed at the realization that we, each of us, have a person inside our skins with us. Parker enacts this phenomenological remembering with such a wit and lyricism, and such a grief, that I believe him likely one of the smartest, saddest, funniest writers alive. He is without doubt one of my favorite writers. I have been following his work for years. And so will people for years to come.
Karl Parker’s PERSONATIONSKIN makes for a strange and auspicious debut. The self in these poems tries on and discards one skin after another while Rome burns in the background—his fiddling indistinguishable from the burning. Joyous and agonized bodies dance through the funhouse, leaving sticky-note poems on distorting mirrors to mark their circular progress: “peel back the skin, back to the everything, the pale tenderest fleshpetal, where we are reeling still.” A broken umbrella in the face of major weather, a map of a landscape in which the difference is spreading: poems to make your flesh creep, to make you feel alive.
Parker's jolting, often baffling assertions keep escorting you to the edge of some political or psychological cliff, where you glimpse an abyss into which a part of you or someone who has stolen your identity may already have jumped—and then yanking you back with a nudge in the ribs. It is funny—the way Samuel Beckett is funny. But wholly original. You don't want PERSONATIONSKIN to end because it keeps getting you to smile at the reasons why you might despair. It is a tender, good-natured, painfully discomfiting, and aesthetically exhilarating book.
There are moments of human interaction that leave one with a sense of cosmic disconnection, as if the earth has stopped spinning, as a record would skip and scratch at a school dance. There is something so delicately transcendent in that shock. It’s like being hung-over and walking out into the twenty-below morning, a gasp. Karl Parker’s poems bring me as closer to that terror and transcendence than any other writer.
I think of Whitman rubbing his hide on tree bark, in both penance and ecstasy. The American elegy is tapered to a wick which burns back on itself. The edges of Parker’s writing shudder, as the skin shudders when it comes in contact with thorns—or caresses. But it is beyond good and evil. Many voices hash this out. There is Beckett reciting Shakespeare, Paul Celan reading Dylan Thomas. Voices plummet from the heavens. They are eloquent and rational, and they hold back tears. The personating fills that void with bodies and consciousness. That brings them even closer to, and makes them the membrane between body and self. They engineer earthly structure to support the weight of regret and hope. Parker’s poems are some of the most delicate and dangerous that exist. In their sublime instants, we are both present and complete.
—William Pettit, Tarano, Italy 3/09