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Fence Books, $15.95 (paper)
In one of philosophy’s strangest descriptions of aesthetic feeling, Plato compares the experience of beauty to a baby teething—a maddening sensation suspended between ticklish delight and pain. Aaron’s Kunin’s fifth book illuminates Plato’s faintly grotesque analogy. The daimon of Kunin’s new collection of verse—“cold genius”—mechanically tickles the reader into a state of awkward excitement: a precarious practice that becomes susceptible, according to the book’s “Essay on Tickling,” to the calculations of sex. One even meets here a distant relation of cold genius who goes by the name of “Chiquita Banana” (a girl dick): the poetic subject conceived as brand name or prosthesis, and elsewhere as a disease. Each poem is a “frost-piece,” yet cold genius manufactures polarities such as cold controversy and cold confession. The sensation of coldness pertains essentially to painful feeling, so “cold genius” must be reckoned as a mode of intelligence governed by passion. The book finds “reason to cry in public,” and Kunin’s playful but exacting verses occupy a new confessional: secrets “dragged out” by the operation of double negatives, by various “techniques.” These poems, strictly framed in six-line stanzas, bristle with quotation marks, the first word of each line abruptly capitalized. Animated, and at times arrested, by what Sianne Ngai calls a poetics of the “gimmick,” Kunin’s “homely” diction suffers, like Gertrude Stein’s writing, its own epigraphical mania. His inimitable poems will likely be with us as long as Stein’s strange propositions.
Daniel Tiffany is the author of nine books of poetry and literary criticism. His latest collection of poems, Neptune Park (Omnidawn 2013), was selected by the Poetry Foundation as a notable book of 2013. His critical books include Infidel Poetics: Riddles, Nightlife, Substance (Chicago 2009) and My Silver Planet: A Secret History of Kitsch and Poetry (Johns Hopkins 2014), a nominee for the Pegasus Prize in Poetry Criticism. He has translated works by authors from French, Greek, and Italian. He is a winner of the Chicago Review Poetry Prize and a recipient of a Whiting Fellowship and of the Berlin Prize, awarded by the American Academy in Berlin. He lives in Los Angeles.
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