Here is the difficulty of speaking about the poetry of Robert Krut: not to repeat oneself. His works are surreal, imbued with a magic that is both granular and delicate, even tender. They exist in a world that filmmaker David Lynch might find heartwarming.
But that doesn’t mean Krut, a tenured professor in the writing program at UC Santa Barbara and the College of Creative Studies, is repeating himself.
In “Watch Me Trick Ghosts” (Codhill / SUNY Press, 2021), his fourth book of poetry, Krut constructs a parallel universe, but one that echoes the baffling trauma of our plague-filled days. Rather than sneaking through the streets of downtown Los Angeles this time around, much of this new work looks inward through the isolation of self-preservation.
Take, for example, these lines from “Walk Don’t Walk Walk Stand Still”:
How do you even speak
when everyone’s about to fall apart
all the time and every day?
“For me the last [“The Now Dark Sky, Setting Us All on Fire”] had a lot of frustration that he was trying to express, but he was connected to the outside world, ”he said. “This one is much more internal. Some of it was a change just because of the way it was written. And part of it was also a desire not to repeat the last book.
“I knew early on that I wanted to do something a little different; I wanted to change perspective. I just didn’t know the world would change perspective so much at the same time.”
If Krut internalizes his discomfort in “Watch Me Trick Ghosts” – most written during Lockdown – his poetry always slides and erupts with refractions of reality and the unexpected. Consider “Attempt at Astronomy,” in which a long-isolated man prepares to venture outside.
It opens the water but it releases a spray
tiny flying insects –
beetles with fly eyes,
spiders with dragonfly wings
little praying mantis with centipede paws –
and they turn around his head, an ignorant
Saturn as he calls out to nobody
and stands still like the dying planet that it is.
“I want to explore surreal worlds,” he said, “I want things to become unusual. But if the writing itself isn’t simple, if the images aren’t concrete, then it just spinning in the ether and mean nothing I like concrete things but allow them to go surreal or weird or dreams or whatever you want it to be.
As Krut explores sadness and despair, the tone of the book changes at the end. In “The Forest” he writes that “Mourning turns us into trees”, a disturbing process that seems to portend a certain horror. But the last lines offer the prospect of hope, of belonging again.
“If there is one haunt, or hauntings, in the book, the point is to work so that it is not terror; the hope is to make peace with her through the poems, welcoming the speakers and the readers in a common experience, a shared space, ”he said.