As if we have all understood and accepted that everything in the world has resonance, that our lives have begun many times over, and that the land and its creatures tell stories, David Keplinger’s newest poetry collection pinpoints what follows that understanding and acceptance. In The World to Come (106 pages; Conduit Books & Ephemera), Keplinger’s prose poetry plays with the liminal space between knowing and not knowing,investigating the universal, that which applies to us all, alongside the universal, or the literal universe and its planets.
Winner of the Minds on Fire Open Book Prize, The World to Come is sectioned into three parts: Possible Worlds, Impossible Worlds, and The World to Come. The book’s form is important and telling. Many things come in threes, for instance, the classic story structure of a beginning, middle, and end. Yet these prose poems do not precisely tell a story; they’re lacking in a discernible endpoint or beginning, positioning us into some kind of universal middle.
Paragraphs operating as poetic aphorisms deal in imagistic memory and imaginaries of various kinds:
The sea at Carmel was similar, it surrounded the glass windows, and at night I heard colors like a musician does. My mother was dying. She was more pain than body then.
Speakers tell us of men from realms as different from each other in time and place as Pietro Lorenzetti, John Keats, Charles Manson, and Sir Leonard Woolley. Perhaps their mentions allude to the places Keplinger has been to or would like to go. Possibly, they’re records of all that the speaker has heard and seen, coming back to them at the time of the poem’s entrance into the world.
Poetic form can elucidate questions and provide a stable in which to neatly park contradictory ideas. In “Skeleton,” the speaker says, “Like my parents did with my own skeleton, Woolley misassembled two harps into one.” The speaker appears to wonder how broken things can be beautiful, and at the same time understands this is precisely why something is beautiful.
What Keplinger does best is to make use of the prose form without becoming sentimental about its substance. The brevity of the poems mean that every sentence does its work, landing an emotional weight that belies their length. Take, for instance, these lines from “The Heart”: “To live is to be cut away. It is an early alignment with belief, followed by suspicion’s madness. It is happening to me now. I see this in the heart that you left in my heart.”
In Keplinger’s work, the territory to come is unknown but it will be of our own making. As the speaker in the title poem says: “The warming has started. In the North, the dogs have grown so thin their bones show through. In the South, the parks lay flat as wet tablecloths. In the East, no more flying violinists.”