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 Poetry Review    



The Ha-Ha
By David Kirby
Louisiana State University Press, 2003
Hardcover, $22.95 (55 pages)
ISBN: 0-8071-2893-7
Paper, $15.95 (55 pages)
ISBN: 0-8071-2894-5

Titled for an antiquated fence or wall from English garden architecture intended to keep livestock off the lawns while remaining hidden, Kirby’s latest book succeeds in accomplishing much the same purpose of its namesake.  The fence or wall, obscured by a ditch, was so named for the surprise a person might express upon its discovery.  In this same way the wit and humor of Kirby’s poems and their presentation in such an unassuming narrative style, serves as a smokescreen for his powers of observation and social and cultural commentary.  Much as the brilliance of Shakespeare’s “Fools” outshined their lords and kings, so does Kirby’s work rely on humor to gain greater enlightenment.   

The book’s first poem, “The Ha-Ha, Part I: The Tao of Bo Diddley,” serves as an adequate introduction to the style and musings that the reader will encounter throughout the rest of the book.  The subject matter varies from a family trip to Hawaii, a poster of Bo Diddley, missing Danish hikers, a kamikazes head on the deck of a WWII ship, a terrifying babysitter, and Kevin Spacey.  One is reminded of Eliot’s fragments “shored against (his) ruin.”  What joins these seemingly disturbing and dissimilar subjects which Kirby relates to death is his sense of humor: 

…and doesn’t my own brother
not just like but love to think
of how baffled our parent were when he screamed each time


the train went by and how finally one night they overhead
the babysitter, whose name
was Teen, saying to Albert as he squirmed in his high chair
that if he didn’t eat his vegetables, the train was going to
jump off the track
and come over and “squash the blood out of him”?

It is Kirby’s ability, much as he describes his brother’s own in the above stanza, to laugh at what is a most serious matter that will draw readers to these poems.  Humor provides not only the buffer and illusion of normalcy, but also a lens through which the world is to be viewed.  Kirby is aware of and embraces this device wholeheartedly as we all must to make sense of the world we live in.  

His is an easy, unforced humor that is as natural as the language that carries his poems across the page.  Kirby’s easy way with words puts the reader at ease and allows the poem to blossom, even as he talks about a nude beach in the poem “Someone Naked and Adorable.”  The result is a heightened awareness; awareness pulled taut by the delicate balance Kirby strikes between the tragic and the comic.  In the seventh and eighth stanza of the same poem he writes: 

…for life has a sting in its tail, like a chimera,
and you can no more draw that sting yourself


than you can tickle yourself,
whereas another person can do both.

In this book Kirby has succeeded in erecting his own modern ha-ha, but rather than holding chaos at bay for appearances, he invites it in and tells it a story as only he can.


William Ashley Johnson
Southern Scribe Reviews

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