The Dis­card­ed Life

  • Review
By – May 30, 2022

In his new col­lec­tion of poems, The Dis­card­ed Life, the poet and lit­er­ary crit­ic Adam Kirsch med­i­tates on child­hood moments that are filled with rec­ol­lec­tions of the 1980s. Kirsch writes about yearn­ing for the old­er, sim­pler times when he remem­bers eat­ing at an old din­er, but then he real­izes that he most like­ly mis­re­mem­bers the details and assumes the past was bet­ter than it might have been.

The Dis­card­ed Life is made up of forty poems that are num­bered with­out titles, and all poems are of a sim­i­lar length and writ­ten in a very con­ver­sa­tion­al blank verse. This struc­ture allows the book to be acces­si­ble, and many of the poems will return read­ers to the nos­tal­gia of youth through Kirsch’s rich metaphors and imagery.

Kirsch takes read­ers back to child­hood fears: get­ting stuck in the wrong ele­va­tor in the sec­ond poem, or in the fifth poem wor­ry­ing about hav­ing to nav­i­gate the world alone” when get­ting lost from one’s par­ents, fol­lowed by suc­cess and pride from fig­ur­ing out one’s sur­round­ings. Kirsch’s poems move from moment to moment in a chronol­o­gy that shows both a yearn­ing for the past and a sense of accom­plish­ment from hav­ing solved prob­lems on one’s own.

As his poems nar­row in on spe­cif­ic nar­ra­tive moments, Kirsch acknowl­edges that some expe­ri­ences in life expose them­selves and stick with him more than oth­ers. Poem 11 focus­es on the after­math of the death of a child when the speak­er was young and how the memo­r­i­al cre­at­ed for this child essen­tial­ly had less mean­ing as years passed, caus­ing the speak­er to con­tem­plate how humans and mem­o­ry fade with time. Kirsch reflects on the sig­nif­i­cance of mean­ing­ful objects from child­hood and how those objects have impact­ed his world­view. When writ­ing about his bot­tle cap col­lec­tions, Kirsch writes, Like her­aldry or Kab­bal­is­tic sym­bols, / The bot­tle caps were emblems of a world / End­less­ly rich in mean­ings and in kinds … ” Kirsch con­sid­ers the objects and expe­ri­ences of his past to bet­ter exam­ine how he devel­oped his ideas about the world.

These ear­ly child­hood rev­e­la­tions and epipha­nies tend to focus on per­ma­nen­cy, remorse, and rela­tion­ships with oth­ers and one­self. These younger moments lead up to the speaker’s Bar Mitz­vah, which is detailed in poem 18, and con­trasts the phys­i­cal­i­ty of the Torah with his inabil­i­ty to remem­ber his Torah por­tion or the tropes over time. Some poems after this moment begin to con­tem­plate God and the ways of the world. In poem 20, Kirsch writes,

If I could play with the idea of God,

Who was more god­like? Maybe disbelief

And metaphor are twin discoveries,

Cling­ing to one anoth­er as they plunge

In the abyss of correspondences—

The speaker’s wrestling with reli­gion, mem­o­ry, and iden­ti­ty help him deter­mine what he val­ues in order to gain more mean­ing for his life. Kirsch often writes with cer­tain­ty about beliefs and makes declar­a­tive state­ments about life, such as in poem 32:

The only edu­ca­tion that remains,

When what we learn betrays its uselessness,

Are moments of resis­tance and defiance,

The counter-pres­sures that define a self—

Kirsch’s poems place moments of life under a mag­ni­fy­ing glass and exam­ine the slight sides and oth­er­wise unno­tice­able cracks or pearls in mun­dane expe­ri­ences. The Dis­card­ed Life is a brief, con­tem­pla­tive exam­i­na­tion on how one’s past impacts one’s future tra­jec­to­ry and beliefs.

Jamie Wendt is the author of the poet­ry col­lec­tion Fruit of the Earth (Main Street Rag, 2018), which won the 2019 Nation­al Fed­er­a­tion of Press Women Book Award in Poet­ry. Her man­u­script, Laugh­ing in Yid­dish, was a final­ist for the 2022 Philip Levine Prize in Poet­ry. Her poems and essays have been pub­lished in var­i­ous lit­er­ary jour­nals and antholo­gies, includ­ing Fem­i­nine Ris­ingGreen Moun­tains Review, Lilith, Jet Fuel Review, the For­ward, Poet­i­ca Mag­a­zine, and oth­ers. She con­tributes book reviews to Jew­ish Book Coun­cil as well as to oth­er pub­li­ca­tions, includ­ing Lit­er­ary Mama and Mom Egg Review. She has received an Hon­or­able Men­tion Push­cart Prize and was nom­i­nat­ed for Best Spir­i­tu­al Lit­er­a­ture. She holds an MFA in Cre­ative Writ­ing from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Nebras­ka Oma­ha. She is a mid­dle school Human­i­ties teacher and lives in Chica­go with her hus­band and two kids. 

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