Do you dare dive into the pool of someone’s time on earth, bright moments and dark humors treated with equal care? Are you ready for poems that cannily align “shrimp, sandwiches, beer by the pitcher, the meaning of life” with a confident hand? The maximalist panache of The Mating Calls of the Dead takes on forbidden subjects and pulls no punches. Steve Kistulentz’s lineation, formal acuity, and soundplay give even the heaviest experiences a light touch on the page. “And I am waiting for the love parade, / for the 11 o’clock news to tell me who’s won, / who’s lost”: aren’t we all? We have all been waiting for this terrific collection.
“I keep reminding myself // history is a list of lovers or fractures, / and most of mine are now healed,” Steve Kistulentz tells us in “It Is All Falling Indelibly Into the Past,” the opening poem of The Mating Calls of the Dead. This collection beckons us to visit those ghost figures and ruptures, pulling out a bar stool and unraveling memory in masterful, heartbreaking detail. Kistulentz journeys to a family’s past, whether a “moment / captured in Ektachrome” or conversation overheard and still recalled, and into a present where mortality looms and desire surfaces like a verse of a long-forgotten hymn. The Mating Calls of the Dead charms, rivets, and devastates. Take this book to bed with you.
At their strongest, the poems in The Mating Calls of the Dead are among the best recent poems of the American South. Steve Kistulentz’s voice is always clear, direct, and forceful, and though Kistulentz plunges into the depths, he never loses his sense of where he is, nor, most importantly, his sense of where his reader is. The Mating Calls of the Dead is a remarkable collection.
There are 171,476 words in the English language, and at least 170,000 ways to avoid the truth. But luckily the poet Steve Kistulentz and The Mating Calls of the Dead have appeared at last, connecting us, and the dots. These dandy, searing, searching poems provide the news we need, how death doesn’t care but we do, and how “no iron can stab / the heart like a poem written for a near-stranger.”
—Alan Michael Parker
In Steve Kistulentz’s latest offering, “the language of the past” sings to us from old radios and across the beautiful ruins of America’s oil towns. We hear the voices of the dead—near and distant, familiar and dream-like. Kistulentz crafts uniquely sensitive, personal lyrics of love and grief, the kind that make up the textures of family, community, and region. This poetry finds its music in the shadows between buildings, in corner lots and anthracite mines, and in the springtime mud of battlefields that fill a father’s memory. This work reminds us that we must look back in order to look forward, pressing through heartbreak towards a luminous “profession of faith.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Steve Kistulentz is the author of the novel Panorama (Little, Brown & Co., 2018) and two collections of poetry, Little Black Daydream (University of Akron Press, 2012) and The Luckless Age (Red Hen Press, 2010), winner of the Benjamin Saltman Award. He is the founding director of the graduate program in creative writing at Saint Leo University and lives in Safety Harbor, where he is the Poet Laureate, with his family.