Minor Key


When Blake split the world in half, pitting Songs of Innocence against Songs of Experience, he gave all the good lines to the voice of age. So it’s a compliment in the best Romantic sense to say that Damon Krukowski in The Memory Theater Burned sounds like an old man. Krukowski fills this small volume of prose poems with nostalgia, amnesia, sleeplessness, suicide, wills, and even ghosts who drop by his house for a smoke. One of them even still has his tattoos.

You can laugh at the absurdity, but the key is clearly minor. The tone is ennui. (Baudelaire invented the prose poem, they say, when he was tired of poetry.) In the opener, a man digs a trench large enough to encompass his entire world. Later, a writer exhausts his one and only thought, which is that he has no private thoughts. Singers try to sing past the point of inspiration and musicians become their instruments—like the bassist who sinks under the weight of his guitar, entering a world heard about in “myth and song.”

Some of this verges on brittle, Calvino-style cleverness, but there is one strong redeeming feature. As a musician himself, best known as the drummer of Galaxie 500, Krukowski makes the image of singing—surely one of poetry’s great clichés since Virgil’s time—mean something again. If anyone has the right to talk about the singer living to sing, or singing to live, Krukowski does. And when you hear the notes of personal history over the drone of allegory, the music will move you.