I Made an Accident

Kevin Sampsell
CLASH Books ($24.95)

by Christopher Luna

There ought to be more books like Kevin Sampsell’s I Made An Accident, a thoroughly engaging blend of poetry and visual art. Sampsell’s collages feature unsettling juxtapositions (babies covered in snakes, for example) and everyday people, places, and things layered atop landscapes, galaxies, sheet music, and more. Women on telephones emerge from mountaintops. Small children sneak up on terrorized ingenues from old movies. Sampsell also deploys great ransom note poems and images of cats that will instill fear or laughter, depending on your predispositions.

The poem “John Stezaker Talks About Collage” serves as a kind of philosophical manifesto for the book: a lament over the “lack of materiality” in a “digital world” that has “too many images.” The act of collage, which can sometimes entail making decisions as simple as “turning a picture upside down,” becomes a way of simultaneously revealing and obscuring. Finding the perfect combination of recontextualized images, paradoxically, “is the moment when I’m somehow not present.”

In “Photos of the Ocean,” the poet confesses to attempting to “live / vicariously / through your / internet presence.” “Countdown” is an alternately hilarious and poignant lament for music delivery systems such as vinyl records, jukeboxes, and CDs. The poem begins with the apocalyptic pronouncement that “music ends next week” but ends on a note of resignation:

sometimes people will try to remember
what a song was
but it will feel impossible
to shape the air like
something that could make you cry

As the book goes on, a loose narrative featuring a dialogue with a friend or loved one in California begins to form. Comparisons are drawn between the writer’s life and how he envisions California: “I imagine every bathroom in California / as being sunny and warm.” Just as collage allows one to reorder the universe, poetry uses language to forge or reconstitute personal connections that may have been lost or rendered remote.     

Sampsell’s writing is understated enough that the emotional impact of a poem often comes as a surprise. “Can’t Remember How Old I Am” is a touching poem featuring funny, intimate observations about a hairdresser alongside the writer’s internal monologue while being worked on:

She saved my life, I thought.
She saved my hair’s life, I thought.

What am I pretending to be?

Even more beautiful, “Crush” examines affection and desire in which “love is never shaped like I expect”:

It is a queer tree
Waiting to be cut down
by someone I thought was a stranger
Are you boy-shaped?
We were never boy-shaped
You said you loved my belly.
I’ll never forget that.

In the final section of I Made An Accident, the colors in the collages burst forth from the page, ending the experience with a crescendo of women and men from another time dancing “like Nicolas Cage / if he knew how to dance.” The big finish also features heartbreaking poems like “Broke & White” and “The World”:

It should be easy to love someone.
To be in the world and to see the good parts.
I feel alive when someone talks to me
About their small things.
An open window that stays open because
It wants to.

Sampsell’s poems and collages quiver with the inescapable melancholy of earthly bliss and suffering. Readers may see themselves reflected in I Made An Accident and will want to return to its kaleidoscopic complexity again and again.   

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