Kyle Harvey’s second poetry collection, “July,” is a sweeping sequence paying homage to both the old gods of writing and his peers. The gorgeous cover echoes not only maps and the journey, but prisms of light, which I found especially fitting—just as orientation results in different colors, so much of our reading experience and its interpretations are impacted by the contexts of what we know. In this way do these 22 untitled poems reinterpret the month through a range of circumstances. Even while consistently approachable, “July” resists straightforward interpretation, asking for a deeper level of engagement from its readers: “don’t ask me // what I mean // meaning / is the murder of process” (18).
Before his table of contents, Harvey acknowledges his many muses—just shy of 120 people, this list stretches through the centuries from Homer to King, Plath to Glück, Simic to Bishop, including all the major players in the naturalist, modernist and post-modern movements, plus a cast of contemporary writers for good measure. To these and “those ahead,” Kyle makes his offering, such as in the following passage:
here in the west
the desert of
& offered to
the greater measure (10)
Throughout sections like these, “July” reflects upon the many ways we fold our inspirations into our own evolving canon. Even Harvey’s italics throughout the sequence are revealed at the end to be echoes from previous greats (Robert Duncan, Charles Olson, and Alexander Pope, to name a few). But Kyle’s call and response is not limited to others, as seen in the following poem (complete in three lines!): “July is me // as much as // I am July” (12). Within this haiku-like sparseness, Harvey suggests an overlap between artist and creation, separate from surrounding traditions. And like Eliot’s famous quote, “In my beginning is my end,” the conclusion of “July” circles back to lines contained at the start.
Beyond these stylized reverberations, “July” proves to be a captivating display of craftsmanship. Unexpected turns in phrases, such as “July is the map / of honey in a jar” (9), or “a color // in the key // of C” (27), utilize line breaks in a satisfying way, while parts such as “what drunken poet hasn’t pined // for July // the howl / & closing of one eye” (23) invoke a similar sense of surprise through rhyme and meter. In this way, reading “July” aloud proves itself a rewarding experience, as can be seen in the harmonies below:
July is one felled oak in a field
near still a willow
among long bows of grain
the tap-tap of a wrench
on an oil pan screw
pan below to drain
a boy lifts his denim cuff
presses the dull side of his blade (22)
This mighty sequence by Kyle Harvey obeys the emerging form. Its geography is an alphabet that never recovers. When Harvey confesses, “I want to believe in July // I want to believe // in something // why not // July” (20), we find ourselves agreeing. In a world of reflection and reinterpretation, “July” is “the only way in // & // the only way out” (8).
Purchase “July” from Lithic Press here
Kyle Harvey can be found on Twitter at @kyleharveypoem
Check out Kyle’s online poetry magazine: Fruita Pulp
Kyle is currently working on “Farewell Materials,” which he calls “a poem about the things I’ve slept above and below for years.”
Review by Christopher Morgan