KIOT: SELECTED EARLY POEMS 1963-1977 by CHARLES POTTSLAUREL JOHNSON reviews
Kiot:Selected Early Poems 1963-1977 by Charles Potts
(Blue Begonia Press, 2005)
(225 S. 15th Avenue, Yakima WA 98902-3821)
[Review first appeared in The Wandering Hermit Review, Issue #1, Summer/Fall 2005. Editor Steve Potter]
Charles Potts has aptly named this breathtaking retrospective of his early work: Kiot -- the Coyote -- the wary trickster and cagey loner, announcing his existence with penetrating voice. Like the coyote, Potts wanders through time and the cosmos,
heralding his protest and outrage with a voice that cuts through human imagination and registers at our prehistoric core. Lending power to Potts' words are kiot drawings by Robert McNealy. Like the poetry these drawings represent, the art is simple but evocative of truth.
One poem alone -- "Obit Mirage" -- is worth the price of this book. In it, Potts reveals multi-layered worlds within worlds with such skill and grace that only one reading barely scrapes the surface of its content:
My people came
On a rickety ship
From the Favorsham
To the land of profits...
From the "land of profits", Potts takes us on a journey that enlightens, then amazes with his wily use of words. With him, we experience the:
Existential beadwork of despair....
Snapped synapse of communication
And we see through his heart and eyes the disfigurement of pristine land:
Though the unmysterious
Clutter of the mess men make with
Can be found on the surface
Of the national forest...
We experience the laying of a railroad where native Indians once lived:
The Golden Spike
Came on a hammer
To clinch the tie that binds the blinded
Termites of a deserted woodwork...
Those are chilling words, but Potts has just begun his cry:
To the consciously expanding
Already rotten basket of
Cancer America spreads to
Defacto territories and
Girdles the world with fear...
Solutions to such taints and fear-provoking problems are beyond man's ability to grasp:
And only the stars know
Which way to turn...
The mountains do not notice
That man has plumbed a line
On their rocks
Man pays a heavy price for his dysrhythm with the land, as does the poet who protests it:
The shattered self scattered
With too much to place
Specimens in a death heap...
Well, those were excerpts from just one poem. Do you know yet why the kiot cries? Potts' use of word and cadence is often stunning, regardless of the topic. Consider, for example, these excerpts from "I Dream of Oaxaca":
I dream of Oaxaca
And the lean and haggard vigil
Born of love
I don't break laws
I reject civilizations...
The blue winds of October blow
The particles of light
Into the whites of my eyes
Of the wind Sound
A Puget flower...
I'll neither live nor die
For any madness other
Than my own...
I appreciate the ways Potts adroitly pinpoints weaknesses. This excerpt from "Throback" is one example:
The simple sexless creatures
Who imagine they are in charge
How I loathe Caucasians and the fear
That forces them to burn
Slant eyed children...
With equal ability, this poet also uses humor and irony as he moves forward and backward through generations, addressing religion, class distinctions, government trickeries and lies. His style is more elegant and eloquent than the Beat poets and
more engaging than post modern symbolism. Potts sets himself apart from the rest with earthy turns of phrase and cunning metaphors. Not one word or syllable is wasted or extraneous. In an Afterword that is easily as powerful and precise as his poetry, Charles Potts adds this later message to his early work:
The weddings, births, and baptisms turn quickly enough
into hastily assembled wakes....I wear death like a
necklace of chocolate skulls for school children in La Dia
de Los Muertos in Oaxaca or Jalisco. What these poems
from more than twenty-five to forty years ago have in
common is dead earnestness.
This poet writes on his own terms. The dead earnestness of Charles Potts is highly recommended.
Laurel Johnson is a Retired Registered Nurse and the author of four books. She is Senior Reviewer for Midwest Book Review; Review Editor for New Works Review; Staff Reviewer for Shadow Poetry Quill Quarterly Review and occasional submitting reviewer for The Wandering Hermit Review and Irish News and Entertainment. Her poetry and prose can be found online in various literary e-zines. She lives in Nebraska with her husband of forty years.