Why I Chose Kyle Dargan’s Anagnorisis for the Rumpus Poetry Book Club


Anagnorisis, for those of us not versed in ancient Greek theater (or black metal bands from Kentucky, as per Wikipedia), is a moment in a play when the hero suddenly realizes not just their situation, but also what they stand for. Think Oedipus the moment he realizes what he’s done to his father and mother and children. It’s the moment of greatest intensity for the hero, and a turning point as well, a moment from which change is inevitable.

Dargan’s collection, his fifth, is filled with a number of such moments. But before I tell you more, a quick reminder that in order to receive your early copy of Anagnorisis, read along with the Poetry Book Club, and participate in our exclusive chat with Kyle Dargan, you’ll need to to subscribe by August 20!

Anagnorisis doesn’t tackle murdering one’s father and marrying one’s mother, but how about stepping through fresh blood on his mother’s porch unsure if the blood is hers?

No one on the block keeps a porch light burning
except my mother, that yellow bug bulb
that now tints our veranda’s canvas—there
a small Pollock reproduction in fresh blood.
And who walks over blood and then knocks?
But I do. I need to have my mother answer
the door, unharmed. It makes no difference
if I am announcing myself to a gunman,
for if that gun has already harmed my mother,
one more person would have to die—
the gunman or I. But she answers my knock.

That’s from “Another Poem Beginning with a Bullet,” a poem that evokes not just the violence that the speaker and the many others who live in the neighborhoods Dargan brings to life in this collection have to negotiate every day, but also brings in Nintendo, Millipede, and the recognition that, as the last line of the poem states, this is “one of the good days.”

This book travels a lot. The third section is set in China and the poems grapple with the challenge of naming things in a language not your own, the connection between dragonflies and crossing a busy road, and the smog that wreathes the landscape.

One of my favorite poems in the collection is “Separating,” near the end, which captures the behaviors we pick up from our parents and the joys we can find when necessity requires we pull away from those. The poem is about, on the surface, eggs. Dargan’s speaker is in an organic market because he’s in a hurry and it’s nearby and he hears his mother, “her mouth full of pennies—mocking each cent I overpay / for staples.” He doesn’t even get to eat them right away. It’s days before he cracks one open, but the description of when he does is just rich with detail. But more importantly to the poem is where he goes with it after seeing this “yolk-yellow so plump and lucent.”

What of my thin shell or my own yoke unbroken within me

(both functions of money, time, deficits)? And I know nothing
about industrial farms. And I understand so much of blackness

as what I do in spite of my caging. But I know I cannot buy
another egg not laid by a bird I believe foraged, walked freely

under the sun—deciding to value her motion, her blood.
A bourgeois privilege, I know. But if not to make the choice,

why else am I grinding myself down for these wages?

It’s that last line that really speaks to me, that sense of grinding, that this world demands so much work that we don’t have the chance to enjoy our labor or what it can provide. Indeed, we’re told that there’s something ennobling about the grind, about the work itself, and the message is so pervasive that it’s easy to forget that while we’re working so hard that we think twice before we buy higher quality food (assuming we can at all), there are people doing no work at all who are living large on what we’ve made. All those inequities illustrated by an egg.

That’s why I chose this book. Kyle Dargan has a wonderful ability to distill moments and show us their wider implications in tight, controlled, strongly crafted lines. I’m excited to share this book with our members, and I hope you’ll join me in September as we read and discuss Anagnorisis, first together and then with Kyle Dargan in our exclusive online chat. Subscribe to the Rumpus Poetry Book Club by August 20 to make sure you don’t miss out!

Brian Spears is Senior Poetry Editor of The Rumpus and the author of A Witness in Exile (Louisiana Literature Press, 2011). His poem “Upon Reading That Andromeda Will One Day Devour Triangulum and Come For Us Next” was featured in Season 9 of Motion Poems. More from this author →