Flynn employs many mirrors to engender a hive mind
by Rob Neufeld
The image comes to poet Keith Flynn when he visits 17th century Amsterdam, Holland—the epitome of middle-class society—in his worldwide hive of poems, “Colony Collapse Disorder.”
“When the money first comes it seems a waterfall of silk,” Flynn begins his Dutch poem, “Rembrandt’s Mirror,” imagining the painter’s success in pleasing patrons, nabbing a wife, and collecting rarities for his studio before bankruptcy stripped him of all but his mirror.
Flynn then jumps to an image of Christmas tree ornaments, “whose mirrored surfaces fill with your shadow/ and shatter, razored carols waiting for your bare feet to clatter through.”
Flynn’s metaphorical agility and vividness transport you from one revelation to another. Combine that with his global view, and you’ve got an epic hosanna to creation performed within a roiling hell.
In Dharamsala, India, “The morning star enlightened Buddha/ and his first words formed a poem/ out of the desperate ardors.”
In El Paso, Texas, the poet witnesses a man in a coma sucking on a remembered cigarette, and pictures Death as a be-bopper: “It leaves a hole, doesn’t say/ please, walks with a swagger and takes its toll,/ blows a smoke ring into the fan and watches it roll.”
“C’mon, people,” you can imagine Flynn’s poems saying, “the dance of life is so great—why so much meanness?”
In the El Paso poem—titled, “The Future of an Illusion”—Flynn zaps us with a hip theology: “If God lived on Earth, people would break/ His windows, egg His barely moving electric car,/ step on His robe, and call him a fag at the mall.”
Why is that? It goes back, for Flynn, to an inheritance from his father, as he reveals in a rare autobiographical poem, “Assuming the Conception,” set on Flynn Branch Road, North Carolina.
Facing the demon
“My body turned 45, and the wheels/ fell off,” he begins, facing death’s visage.
“Lolling about in this Hell,/ old bird, your beak numbly clacking,/ clenched around a twig whittled/ to the size of a cigarette, you will not succumb to this institution’s whitewashed/ viral simplicity, its bardic death-head.”
Flynn has developed a career as a rock band leader, as well as editor (“Asheville Poetry Review”) and producer (White Rock Hall, Madison County).
I’d like to assign an animator to his case. The voice-over in the movie version, at times, would be a kind of god who seems to take a delight in human suffering.
“The university of adversity,” the poet’s father had crowed, the Flynn Branch poem tells.
“The soul sings,” the poet rejoins, “and my father, a quavering note/ who has not risen, lives still.”
“Colony Collapse Disorder,” with all its travel, has a local grounding; but that is only the roosting spot in a web that reaches as far as Kubla Khan.
Flynn’s connection with the cosmos pre-dates the Internet, and has poets such as William Blake and Allen Ginsberg to thank. It is interesting, therefore, to read his take on modern connectivity in his poem, “Facebook,” set in Queens, New York, apparently after the location of an anonymous female correspondent.
“Perhaps I could be the high altitude tree, she says, sauntering about/ miles above your giant wooly rodent, or a cobalt-colored toad the size/ of a pea, with torrid little wings that purred like turbines as I wound/ around the breeze of your argument.”
“Without our bodies we cannot love,” Flynn comments; and compares web information to a billion Pony Express ponies “steaming at the same time into a town riddled with mirrors.”
He also calls the profusion “a barrage of bait”; and we are like “a giant gray tarantula in early evening,/ tense with near-misses and brilliant collisions, its movement as frantic as its mind.”
Reasons to reach
Why do we read Flynn, beyond the pleasure of his phantasmagoria? Why do his gymnastics, pain, and vision resonate with us? He explains the serious intent well in his preface.
The title of his new volume “is taken from the strange occurrence, discovered in 2006, that began to happen to America’s honeybees”—a perfect storm of viruses. “The few bees to survive were reeling, and wandering, without purpose, like survivors of a terrifying apocalypse. Great lobes of the hive mind had died.”
The connection between bees, pollination, and our food supply is not difficult to draw.
“It occurred to me,” Flynn writes, “that this was an ideal metaphor for our current global circumstance.” The metaphor also influenced the design of the book.
Each of 52 poems, “built in a circular fashion like a Mayan calendar,” and like a hive, attempts “to capture a sense of what a worker bee might see through the eyes of a human.” Colony collapse.
Flynn hopes that readers, travelling “around the world in eighty or so pages,” will reach out “with a new awareness of the other spirits that are occupying their hive.”
Colony Collapse Disorder by Keith Flynn (Wings Press trade paper, 117 pages, $16).