The debut collection of poems by Conor Bracken, winner of the 2017 Frost Place Chapbook Competition, strips Henry Kissinger—a synecdoche for Eurocentric heteropatriarchy and US Cold War transgressions—naked, and is as transfixed as it is horrified by what it sees. From the Great Rift Valley to southeastern France to the cobbled streets of Buenos Aires, Henry Kissinger, Mon Amour traces the sticky footprints of Western power structures, conjuring the more decrepit and indefensible postures of US Cold War policy, while sussing out the contours of the totalitarian worldview that nourishes them.
The poems of Henry Kissinger, Mon Amour manage to construct a Kissinger who is both a radioactive archetype for white patriarchal sociopathy and as tangible as a liver-spotted hand. Kissinger is translated to us by speaker-as-middle-man holding the tyrant’s “x-rays to the moon’s blue light,” as boy toy, apologist, and victim, disfigured by his dance with devil, anti-heroic in his collusion with tyranny with just a whiff of gallantry in his willingness to kiss and tell. These poems churn the guts and delight the senses, the language precise, juicy, with a napalm-shimmer, the diction creating a self-deluded truth teller, “striving towards a whiteness that’s translucent,” in turns absurd, hilarious, entertaining, post-traumatic, and terribly sad, drenched in a sort of post-coital shame and yet an unquenchable, awful desire. “As American/…As the cruise missile in his living room/we take turns straddling like a mustang,” Conor Bracken has written the perfect collection for our time.
Henry Kissinger, Mon Amour is a forceful, unsettling collection not only for its latitude of address that finds complexity—psychological, sexual, and political—in the figure of a former statesman who appears, by turns, as sadistic paramour, war hawk, and blundering accomplice. Obtained from that summons are poems distressed by the seductions of whiteness, by the entitlements of masculinity, and by U.S. liability in the machinations of state terror elsewhere in the hemisphere. Ritualistic, and foaming at the mouth with abject laughter, Bracken’s poems are a purging of American infamy and about the messy compromises made when the exceptional romance is over.
The poems in Henry Kissinger, Mon Amour are wild imaginaries that bend, shift and turn unexpectedly to remind us that no human is uncomplicated or undamaged. Through the lens of an unnamed speaker whose lover is Henry Kissinger, Conor Bracken masterfully plumbs the tangled connections inherent in power, sexuality, violence, privilege, and desire via luminous figurative language, snappy dialogues, and wickedly smart mediations. This book is an unforgettable tour de force of inventiveness and grace.
Henry Kissinger, Mon Amour features a painting by Durham artist Jenny Blazing.