Review first published on RebeccasReads
A Human Menagerie – Triumphs, Tragedies, and Cautionary Tales in Verse
Reviewed by F.T. Donereau for RebeccaReads (6/13)
There is great whimsy in, “A Human Menagerie,” Rob Kleinsteuber’s welcome book of verse. Here, between the covers, he has set down rhyme schemes that tickle from the tongue, that roll across the mind. Reading them you feel yourself bouncing as if you have just been set into a joyous tumble, as if each page is a taste of youth’s summer sunshine, autumn’s hard air in the lungs while out trick or treating.
There can be no doubt it is a great gift for all of us now grown to once have been young and free. Back in our early youth we were able to see the world with clear eyes, to accept what came as a thing to view and study, to mull over. Whether it was some potentially horror like spectacle (and sometimes wasn’t that all the better), or some fantastical arc of beauty, such as a rainbow, or a pebble skipped across a body of water, we were blessed in the open way we were ready to experience it. This poet has not forgotten how to see with such open vision, with heart. He seems not afraid to keep on channeling the world and all that is in it, as if it is still brand new. What a gift to be able to spy conceits such as a Sergeant in the Marines, a man here named Quilty, or a professor on his seventieth birthday, or a Miss Malinsky (Kleinsteuber does use enchanting names for the characters populating this collection) who thinks she is charged with being the solver of the world’s problems, and to render them complete in ways only available to eyes that have not grown too solidly jaundiced.
Now, I beg you, do not misunderstand me: “A Human Menagerie” is not a book for children, though it might do them no harm to read it, for I am sure they would catch only the light beauty and comic turns therein. What they would certainly miss, is the underbelly of some of these delightful poems, the darker tones riding within, below, beside the versicle happenings as they fell trippingly from their tongues. I am certain the title, “A Human Menagerie” was chosen quite thoughtfully, carefully, by Mr. Kleinsteuber. Decidedly, he has a touch of the great bard, Emily Dickinson, somewhere inside him. A Human Zoo, the opening poem— which serves really as a welcome, a greeting to the reader— encompasses the basic human condition, the nature of the cages we trap ourselves in, the self imposed prisons we have the ability to free ourselves from, if we’d simply become aware of the fact and reach down and take hold of the key planted before us.
Later you will come across a poor lonely woman who uses spirits (liquor by another name) to get through her loneliness, and the callous ways others abuse her. You will also find drug abuse, broken hearted parents, overzealous art world denizens, death, gluttony, a plethora of human failure, all flowing from a pen that does not allow tears; these poems are simply too full of knowing for that, busy between the lines stating that yes, we are a circus, a zoo, a menagerie, and it is better to smile than break, to eye this ever spinning race of people with love, not contempt.
Before I forget, I need to mention the illustrations that accompany these verse poems. Brought forth with simple lines, they manage somehow to capture their subjects with startling detail. Pen and Ink may be the medium used here. It is a glorious choice, exactly right for a book moving with such speed. Take a gander at our Miss Malinsky. Or Madame Mothball. Or the corporate loyalist, Phil Cormine (I told you about those perfect fit names). To see the drawings of such is to know these folks instantly. Then the delight of reading the text and gaining the layers of what is going on with them. Yes, a collection light in its deep running ways, telling and slyly humorous, “A Human Menagerie,” a gaggle of the kind you’re likely to meet along the way, presented in perfect pitch, to savor and dance to in the heart.