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JD Scott on Steven Karl

Dork Swagger by Steven Karl

 

“Something about the
Impermanence of youth.”

Dork Swagger
(Coconut Books, 2013) is like laying on a blanket in a park during summer, booze hidden in a Styrofoam cup close by. Or a set of fortune cookie fortunes written by skaters. Or like an old group of friends meeting at the diner they used to hang out at in high school, but they are trapped by their reminiscence—they’ll only ever be able to elicit the past, order the same shake & fries they’ve been stuck with for a decade.

This is not to say that Dork Swagger muddies itself with the sentimentality of nostalgia, but rather it opens itself around it, kicking off with the line, “We had so much fun being high together,” and thus the past is always present with its Orphean gaze. Eurydice vanishing in a haze of pot smoke. That room where Gen X and Millennials sit at opposite sides of a conference table staring into each other’s eyes. There is a magic to youth, but no spell to relive it perfectly.

“Some say art is never a failure because it roots failure. / It feels good then it doesn’t,” lays down Karl in his spread of colloquial kōans. Each line in this set of untitled poems flows with a laidback wit, a casual high wire act—reflected in the title—that balances between the sincere and insincere. The perception within this ease of language might not be immediately evident, but there is a playfulness to the mastered poems in this debut, a self-awareness that says, “I’m going to write a million poems. / Like this poem right here.”

 

Here’s a further sampling:

They let Bessie
Smith bleed to death & it’s
Another morning of hangover hell.
We look so smart with
Big beats blaring from headphones.
But eventually each mouth opens.

 

—-

Oh hegemony & a coke.

 

—-

“There’s a million ways to say stupid.
Tonight we’ll say none of them.”

 

—-

Career suicide or
Manning it up in a man’s world.

Lamo art star a fallen.
Are you, like, REALLY SAD?

—-


Badly bleached blondes spill out of a cab.

*

The bouncers always let me skip the line.

*

There are more wars than I care to keep track of.

—-

Dork Swagger is full of Indigo Girls shout-outs, teen-toned epistles, hippie heartache, summer sweat, guitar riffs, giggling and thrashing, Black Flag cassettes, laments to Satan, slackerdom, bondage gear and dancing bodies.

Although dressed in SK8 OR DIE attire, the skin beneath Karl’s clothed verse resonates with politic, a beautiful intensity surfacing. It is both the endless weekend & the fist that punches you in the face on Monday. As the poems dwindle down on a wave of bullet lines, Karl closes with, “DIE HARDER. / This beat is SO RIGHT NOW. / C’mere. / There’s magic oozing where your feet should be.”

And there is.

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