Cold Genius
Aaron Kunin
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.