K.Z. Ponders’s Lyrical Incantations for the Criminally Insane is a dense, free-verse collection that uses the conceit of an incarcerated man to move through the prisoner’s troubled state of mind over the span of his years in prison.
The collection is comprised of 55 poems arranged in five sections. It chronicles a speaker—referred to as “Our Hero” —from his sentencing in “The Chains” (“A Chill of fear./ He shakes./ A warm tear on a cold face”) to his first day free in “A Free Man’s Odyssey (“WE SEE OUR HERO enter the convenience store in a panic course…It seems his mind is in a daze…”).
Throughout the journey, sometimes the speaker philosophizes in a grandiose way: “The atom, [sic] is the Eve neuroplastic evolution./ A supernova of sensations has already changed what once was, [sic] to what now is./ Now is, [sic]/ the event horizon.” Other times, he recounts his daily life in spare, simple language: “True as this moment,/ wearing prisoner green./ Too much to handle,/ my nose starts to bleed.”
The premise of this collection has merit, and the poet succeeds in conveying the disturbed mind of the prisoner and his understandable disorientation resulting from his new circumstances. But several flaws impede readers.
The variation in tone, length and shape of the poetry is jarring and overwhelming. And Ponders fails to effectively control the chaos of his speaker’s mind and experience through craft. In many sections, readers are likely to lose sight of the speaker’s story altogether, falling down a rabbit hole of riddled and cerebral language detached from narrative context. For example: “Thalamus interpretations,/ of said/ sensations and stimulations,/ reverberate neural synergy from neural transmitting energy./ Oscillating the continuity/ of/ our/ vivacious consciousness™…”
More sensory-rich diction and less detours into impenetrable wordplay would help this work achieve its significant potential. As is, the collection will likely have difficulty attracting serious readers of contemporary poetry.