Review of "The Sweetness of Herbert" by Stuart Krimko
A Pitch of Sonic Ecstasy: Stuart Krimko’s “The Sweetness of Herbert”
by Adam Fitzgerald
I first encountered Stuart Krimkoâ€™s work at the 11th Street Bar Reading Series, one of the most distinguished in New York City. That night, Krimko, 32, read with Jeff Clark and John Ashbery. Formidable company. Upon hearing his longer poem If Itâ€™s May It Wonâ€™t Be May I knew I was in the presence of brilliantly original work. I purchased The Sweetness of Herbert (Sand Paper Press) at the back of the bar. Good title, I thought, then thumbed through the handsome, flamingo-pink volume.
Would the collection, Krimkoâ€™s second, reward my high expectations? Yes, it would. Overwhelmingly. Clocking in with 35 poems throughout seventy plus pages, â€œThe Sweetness of Herbertâ€ offers the surprise of a poet early in his career who has mastered the modulation of form, phrasing, tone, and most surprisingly, rhyme. Considering the Harry Mathews blurb on the back, one might expect Krimko to be like other New York School descendants. Indeed, many talented poets hail from this aesthetic configuration in Contemporary Poetry Land. What distinguishes Krimkoâ€™s poems are their quirky yet formal composure, matched with an overt musicality thatâ€™s absent from too many of Ashbery, Koch, and Oâ€™Haraâ€™s heirs.
In The Competition, the rhymes slide together like a sharp skate in memorable parallel: â€œNone of it means / a thing. // Give me that ring. / None of it looks like life. / I need a wife.â€ The entire book relishes in play of this caliber: dexterous and understated (think Seidel minus his Francis Bacon disposition). In one of the strongest pieces collected, A Joyous Hammer of Praise, the rhymes are raised to a pitch of sonic ecstasy thatâ€™s rare in â€œexperimentalâ€ poetry today. Recalling perhaps the Laforguian mode of young Eliot, Krimko enlists his rhymes to set a scene, dismantle it; establish irony, explode it; and finally, to move us (both down the page as well as into the speakerâ€™s psyche). Rambling coyly through sexual escapades and brand name-touting astronauts, the poem concludes with the speaker suddenly imagining a daughter:
Before I bummed a cigarette.
read my Braille newspaper.
Before I went out into the world
and bought as many knickknacks as I could afford.
Before I offered a prayer
to a Lord.
I would love my daughter
more than my water, she would always come first,
she would be the answer to my thirst.
Stuart Krimkoâ€™s â€œThe Sweetness of Herbertâ€ proves he is a poet to watch, and watch closely. His poetry, â€œineffably light, intensely serious,” is a total delight. Interested readers can find more of Stuart Krimkoâ€™s work online here. Watch a video of Krimko reading here.
Adam Fitzgerald is a poetry MFA student at Columbia Universityâ€™s School of the Arts. His work has appeared in Rain Taxi. He edits Maggy poetry magazine and contributes regularly to TheThe Poetry Blog. He lives in the East Village.