Randomness is central to Toronto writer Kevin Connolly’s poetics. In his previous collection, the Trillium-winning drift, the poems were arranged alphabetically, as if to say that order is irrelevant. In Revolver’s table of contents, titles of pop songs stand in place of the poems’ titles. In some cases, there appears to be a connection – “Insectivorous” stands in for “Street Light,” for example, which features spiders – but one suspects this is a coincidence, a playful and pointless joke lying in wait for the reader.
Much of Connolly’s work here consists of anti-lyric manifestos. “Love Song,” which itemizes a beloved’s disgusting qualities, is a sullen heir to Shakespeare’s “My mistress’ eyes.” In “Last One on the Moon,” the moon is “rote” and “written,” a “Niche of cliché, nemesis of fresh.” In the book’s final poem, Connolly – recalling Frost’s dictum that a poet may only use the word “beautiful” three times – skewers the verbal bankruptcy of lyric convention by using the word 10 times.
It’s refreshing to see a poet with such an unromantically clear sense of aesthetic purpose. The risk is that Connolly’s poetics tend to define themselves negatively, and the cool glibness of his poems can make for disposable art. But there’s also a mildly plaintive melancholy in many of these poems that feels all the more earned for the strength of the poet’s defences. In “Cycle,” a lover’s face is “childlike and frankly, beautiful – no other word/ works – open as she is to all pains and every window.”