Sean Karns (Poetry) | Champaign, IL
Press & Reviews
Sean Karns’ Jar of Pennies is a moving and harrowing book full of Levis and Levine. At times the poems are parable-like, as in the opening poem where a father and son casually slice apart a globe is if they own—let alone understand—the larger world it represents. Elsewhere, there’s a subtle, stunning surrealness: “The ash of bone is fog.” But, ultimately, this is a book of unflinching attention to the world of the semi-rural Midwest, a landscape of paper mills, tenant farmers, slaughterhouses, “death-yellow” cornfields, and steel mills “with smokestacks like skyscrapers.” Karns’ vision is so stark and apt—a scar on a shoulder shines “like a pink marble,” two men skinning a buck “pull the buck’s hide / like tugging on a bell rope in a tower”—it’s impossible not to be drawn by these poems to that place of awe where horror, beauty, and sorrow merge.
—Wayne Miller, author of The City, Our City
Sean Karns will break your heart. The narrator of this collection makes starkly vivid the hardscrabble background of his life: an unhappy mother who works at the slaughterhouse, a father whose farm fails, a boy who loves both but plays the piano to escape. A group of poems referencing the likes of Walker Evans and James Agee enlarges the context considerably. There is a doomed affair, a brilliant dream sequence about the father, and a field of “cornstalks…flutter[ing] their death rattle.” Deeply sad, profoundly moving, and seductively musical, these poems are a testament to survival and art.
—Kelly Cherry, author of The Life and Death of Poetry: Poems
Sean Karns’s Jar of Pennies possesses all the blood scent and (literal) dead weight of its title. All of its metal, mettle, male, and mail. Here, Karns collects for us the abbatoirs, pick-up trucks, and hunting grounds of the Midwest, and with a voice both wounded and wounding, childlike and mature beyond his years, Karns makes us feel with him the heavy burden of being America’s son: “What keeps us/ whole is ammunition./ He is the cold casing./ I want to be the hot/ lead that splits from/ the chamber.”
—Kathy Fagan, author of Sycamore