Kel Munger is not at all the typical “Career Poet,” comfortably ensconced in some cushy office teaching creative writing. The poems in her first book clearly emerge from a range of blue-collar experience-as waitress, police dispatcher, baker. Carl Sandburg, with his working-class sympathies and esthetic, is Munger’s unlikely father figure.
The dilemmas and traumas of such lives fuel her work, sometimes given tension by contrast, as in the wonderful “The 911-Dispatcher Reads Boethius on Duty”: “Here, / in this hungry country of unkindness, I have become / an unwilling philosopher, a professional.”
“What Cops Don’t Know” is equally pithy, with its balance of admiration for an officer’s skill, and distress at his prejudice. After a list of the cop’s feats, it ends as he “shakes his head violently”: “I can’t stand queers! he says, and takes a seat / at the briefing table, right next to me.”
Munger’s lesbianism informs many of these poems, perhaps an authentic factor in her sympathy for the underdogs and victims of the world.
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