The poems in Kevin Prufer's fifth collection In a Beautiful Country may sound a lot like love poetry, may even employ the same sorts of strategies, particularly the closely observed and tenderly detailed address to the beloved. But Prufer's subjects, in these selfsame poems, are often violence, war, and death. In fact, in "Love Poem" the speaker makes this offer: "I'll make you a bomb. First the booster gas canister,/ then the heat shield, then the radium case, which, yes,/ is shaped like a peanut." Then, "Don't you love me? Love what I've made for you?"
Imagine the beloved trying to keep her composure. What's she going to say? "How sweet of you! It was just what I wanted."
These horrifying reversals abound. Prufer, a poetry professor at the University of Houston, daringly writes beautiful verse (sometimes using traditional forms, even rhyme schemes, in this day and age!) about devotion and ugly self-deception, making large claims about our new century, the recently deceased last century, the wars we are waging, and the manipulation of our affections by the mass media and our own government. Beauty, in Prufer's works, may be a sublime deception, "an impostor version of [what] we came to trust, a lovely voice distracting us from the truth."
In other words, the beloved is likely to treasure her new bomb, to see it as proof of the speaker's love, and will start searching at once for a suitable target to destroy.
Both Prufer and Darin Ciccotelli will read their poetry at the next Poison Pen Reading next week. Darin Ciccotelli, a recent graduate of the Creative Writing Program at the UH is returning to Houston from Soka University in California as the first "Visiting Writer" at the upcoming Boldface Conference for emerging writers, which is organized by the UH undergraduate creative writing magazine Glass Mountain. For five days, 80 aspiring writers, of all ages and quite a few from out-of-state, will participate in workshops, have individual consultations, and attend special readings and events.
May's Poison Pen Reading is at 8:30 p.m. on May 26 at Poison Girl Bar, 1641 Westheimer. For more information, visit www.poisonpenreadingseries.com.