- Dream Song Luck
When I was born, I received a framed piece of paper. It detailed the time into which I had been born: The Cosby Show was #1, "Made in the USA" campaigns were popular, a gallon of gasoline was about 88¢, and New York Giants fans were stranded by a snowstorm far from Pasadena and their beloved soon-to-be champions of pig-skinned Americana. This was the century as it had come to be and as it is recalled in The Luckless Age, Steve Kistulentz's first collection of poems.
These poems come ripping out of the underground. Take the opening lines from the collection's title poem: "Here is my century as it actually was. // Complete with so many reasons not to tell what happened, morning in America again, shining city on a hill / end of the Reagan era (sic semper tyrannis) and I was just twenty, doomed." Kistulentz isn't trying to deceive anybody who has come to hear about the plight of the Luckless Age. But this period in time is itself full of deceptions. On one hand, the Reagan Era has lulled American culture into a sense of prosperity as the Cold War comes tumbling down. But into whose laps are the walls crumbling? "I was just twenty, doomed / to live in a shadowed minor landscape of glassined marble, where a confetti [End Page 27] of love letters to Jodie Foster / floated down from the tinted windows of the lone-gunman's favorite Hilton."
Ticker-tape parade of confetti and bullets. The absurdity of Eddie Murphy in the recording studio for "Party All the Time" with Rick James behind the controls. Van Halen, hair, bourbon, heroin fix, and we are about to crash. Perhaps, if Reagan had simply ordered the wall to fall into the laps of the generation coming-to during this time, it might have been easier (better?) for the youth to bear. I think it's fair to compare the lived-in landscape of The Luckless Age to that of John Berryman's "Dream Song 8": "The weather was fine. They took away his teeth." Reader, be careful where you look up while taking in Kistulentz's reportage.
The Luckless Age is divided into three sections. In the first, we are brought into this world right alongside Kistulentz's narrator who is stepping into a time in which the stamps of identity begin to dissolve, when social disposability has a new, looming influence. Despondency takes control and we are quickly buckled in, and Kistulentz seems all too aware of what he is trying to prepare us for. Take, for instance, the exact order of the six poems that constitute the first section. "The Luckless Age" is actually split into two titled sections: "World's Forgotten Twentieth-Century Boy" and "Places that are Gone." We are being told that the "I," the narrator, is a socially neglected identity, and we are shown that the world familiar to the narrator is dissolving before his eyes. What's to be done in light of this? Kistulentz holes his narrator up in the not-so pleasant sounding "Hotel Amsterdam" in New York, followed by an attempt to escape through heroin in "Fixing," followed by the amassed collection of disparity at a punk show in "Wild Gift," and a drink is served in "The Bourbon Myths." Kistulentz ends this section with "Luckless Age (Slight Return)" in which his narrator tells us, "I was moving into a new season of no, / no drinking or children, no God or Peace." Like the intro to Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody," Kistulentz's narrator has us know that there is no escape from this reality, and with that we are headlong into the Luckless Age.
The second and longest section in the book is a chronicle of music and personas from the time. At times, reading these poems feels like falling through a series of trap doors, only to get up, walk a few feet, and fall a little more, while at the same time, on each level of your descent...