Balance Act


Performative prose and poetry inspired by the absurdity of everyday life from Ken Cormier, recipient of the Wallace Stevens Poetry Award.
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Performative prose and poetry inspired by the absurdity of everyday life from Ken Cormier, recipient of the Wallace Stevens Poetry Award.
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Editorial Reviews

Aidan Baker
Balance Act, Ken Cormier's first book, is a collection of poems and stories reveling in the inescapable grit and absurdity of human life. His characters are simple, ordinary people rendered complex by the quirks, compulsions, or complexes they have adopted in order to deal with and survive in the world.

Something in the tone or feel of Balance Act reminds me of Hemingway, the Nick Adams stories in particular. There is a certain understatement to the voice, a world-weariness of the characters, that is similar to Hemingway - but it's a Hemingway informed by the disjointed absurdity of Wallace Stevens and the suburban nightmares of David Lynch.

Cormier's poems and stories are united by something of a packrat theme; packrat mentality: a fascination with things. In some pieces this is blatant, as in the poem 'Putting Hats On Babies' which is simply forty-some lines listing things done with and to babies: "Dressing up babies / Turning babies upside-down / Talking to babies / putting babies in commercials / Putting hats on babies". In other pieces, this fascination with objects is less obviously apparent, but still evident, particularly in various character's everyday rituals.

In 'Isn't That Sweet', the opening paragraph is a list of the things the main character, Rita, does every Wednesday. Without this certain ritualized chain of events, it wouldn't be Wednesday for Rita. In other stories, 'Secret' or 'Christmas With Grandma', it's family get-togethers - Christmas or Thanksgiving dinners - which always happen more or less the same and however freakish one's relatives might be one can take solace in that sameness.

Cormier seems to be fascinated with the idea that plain ordinary objects can somehow be anything but ordinary; that an inanimate thing can be not only miraculous but the key to retaining one's sanity. In the poem 'We are still all want and need' is the line, "We see subjects where there are no objects". We are able to take something as mundane as a hat and make it symbolic; we are able to elevate simple things to godlike status; we are able to invest meaning, whole belief systems, in illusions: "My god / drinks too much / coffee. / Swears he's going / to quit smoking, / someday. / He got duct-taped / to a plywood cross - / cried so hard / they had to say sorry / and let him down" ('In His Image').

Generally, I found that the prose pieces in Balance Act more enjoyable than the poems. It may have been that he was more playful with the prose, tending towards more highbrow themes, so to speak, in verse. Or it may have been that the rhythm of his writing - Cormier is also a drummer and rhythm is apparent in his writing - felt more natural in prose than verse. Overall, though, Balance Act, at times bizarrely funny, at other times bleak and melancholy, is an intriguing collection.

Aidan Baker is a Toronto-based writer and musician who has published internationally in such magazines as Intangible, Stanzas and The Columbia Review. His poetry was featured in The Danforth Review #2.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781895837674
  • Publisher: Insomniac Press
  • Publication date: 3/25/2000
  • Pages: 104
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Ken Cormier grew up in Bristol, Connecticut, where he received formal training as a rudimental snare drummer. Music and rhythm inform Ken's writing at every level. Winner of the University of Connecticut's prestigious Hackman Fiction Award and Wallace Stevens Poetry Award, Ken is best known for his wildly performative reading style, featuring multi-track audio backgrounds and gyrations.

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 10, 2001


    This book is incredible. It shifts from fiction to poetry and back again. It's got some hilarious stories, like 'Christmas with Grandma' and 'Surprise Party,' and then there are some really sad, stark stories, especially in the 'Havris and Malen' section. The poems run the same range. He uses language in an odd and really enjoyable way. I can't wait for this author to publish another book!

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