By DAISY KINCAID January 15, 2024
While reading Kurt Cole Eidsvig’s latest poetry collection, “The Simple Art of Murder,” one thought rises again and again: How do any of us find a place to call home? The book is, at first glance, an ekphrastic gallop through history and pop culture, engaging with an encyclopedia of artists and authors alike. Eidsvig conjures Warhol and Gaugin, Da Vinci and de Kooning, Hemingway and Vonnegut (among others), as he takes the reader on a cross-country tour of intimate relationships and loss.
“The Simple Art of Murder” stands as a pivotal work in contending with contemporary art, offering a unique lens through which we can examine the intricacies of modern life. While Eidsvig’s background as an arts writer, educator, and visual artist is apparent, the foundational stones of the collection are presented in a way that welcomes readers to come along on the journey. Each poem provides sufficient footholds for readers to create personal connections with the works regardless of their comfort or exposure to the art and artists. Further, by melding poetry with visual art, Eidsvig enables a dialogue between the written word and the visual arts, challenging and enriching our understanding of both. Eidsvig bridges historical and contemporary artistic expressions, creating a rich tapestry that resonates with our current cultural moment.
Early on, he asks: “If you were etching a new universe against the stars, the sky, an ocean, and a field, what shape do you think you’d start with?”
This is directed as much at the reader as it is at the artists recalled throughout the collection. Where is your wellspring of artistic inspiration? And what map do you use to find your way back to it? In search of it, we traverse Eidsvig’s hyper-American landscapes, traveling in taxis, planes, and Fung Wah buses, crisscrossing the country from South Boston to Los Angeles, Key West to Las Vegas.
At its core, however, the collection is an unflinching look at addiction in America (in its many forms). Eidsvig brings into focus our national obsessions with alcohol, prescription drugs, guns, religion, and fame, offering a raw-edged portrayal of our turbulent era. From the titular poem, he notes:
When you type in “Texas Shooting,”
Google isn’t sure what to tell you anymore.
He draws a clear connection between the emptiness and excess of contemporary life and our compulsive “need” for more of the same. Nowhere is this so vividly described as in “120 Hemingways”:
Chinese, Cuban, Japanese
Hemingway. Kind Hemingway,
Progressive Hemingway. A Hemingway
who uses his brevity to bellow about Trump,
another who speaks Australian. A bastard,
a lover. Someone who pulls for
Hemingway cats down the street.
Hemingway’s brick wall.
Hemingway’s statue. His fish. His
face in the crowd as people wave
popsicle sticks with photo printouts
of their favorite Hemingway contestant.
Movie cameras. Interviews. Hemingways
wait for the stage and talk into their iPhones.
We also find ourselves walking with the poet along the harrowingly narrow path between active addiction and recovery. Here, Eidsvig draws from personal experience to create a world of misfits who try and fail – or try to fail – at sobriety time and time again. His examinations of visual artists and writers trade off with tales of personal demons and broken relationships, as in “One Thousand & One”:
From The Heights or the roof of Southie High, we counted / out, One Thousand & One, One Thousand & Two, One Thousand & Three, and / chugged Jameson bottles upside down until the white flashed into sky.
Regret – and perhaps survivor’s guilt – permeate the work. This is not to say that “The Simple Art of Murder” is without light. Throughout the book, we see flashes of unreasonable hope even in bleak times, as in the final lines of “The Things Maps Can’t Measure”:
“If I could find a quarter / I would play a song about traveling / and forget about the pushpin marks / all over your roads.”
The poems exude a certain bravado, a willful self-deception that speaks to survival and buoys our narrator as he reflects on love, both familial and romantic.
Throughout the collection, the narrator makes us aware that the end – of a relationship, of our search for home, or of our actual lives – might be just around the next corner. Whether this is a relief, or a burden, remains to be seen.
Kurt Cole Eidsvig’s “The Simple Art of Murder” is available from Broadstone Books on February 15. WM
Daisy Kincaid is a writer and marketing professional based in Lisbon, Portugal. She earned a BA in English Literature from University of Oregon, and her poetry has appeared in december magazine. Currently, she is writing (for money) about school buses and (for joy) about family histories.view all articles from this author