DARK HORSES is a notable addition to the numerous books of poetry that X.J. Kennedy has published since his first collection, NUDE DESCENDING A STAIRCASE, won the Lamont Award in 1961. Among the poems in DARK HORSES are ballads (“Dancing with the Poets at Piggy’s”), melancholy lyrics (“The Waterbury Cross”), and playful yet thoughtful poems (“Song: Enlightenment”).
Kennedy’s ability to come up with surprising images is in evidence here too. In “Family Reunion,” the relatives who are gathered together to eat Thanksgiving dinner once each year seem to act robot-like as they shovel white meat into “the family face.” Drawing from his wide range of interests, Kennedy writes of the homeless, of Desert Storm, of younger poets calling him late at night to ask for advice and the closing of a famous brothel in Nevada. Without being sentimental he is able to describe a cancer patient’s trip to the hospital for a radiation treatment (“Rat”) where the disease she struggles against is a “beast with pinpoint teeth.”
Kennedy’s poems in this volume display the qualities that have won praise for his other verse. Besides intelligence, wit and a clear-headedness, there is a devotion to craft and a preference for classic forms with meter and rhyme. Though some of these poems may seem to be quaint when compared to much of what passes for contemporary poetry, DARK HORSES is a generous collection worthy of repeated readings.