Spilling the Tea
(or a book review)
Ben Kline's SAGITTARIUS A* (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2020) Reviewed by Crystal Ignatowski
Ben Kline’s second poetry book, Sagittarius A* (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2020), is part space exploration, part religion, and full conversation on human nature. Kline’s epigraph tells us Sagittarius A* is “an astronomical radio source at the center of the Milky Way and likely location of a supermassive black hole…”
One does not have to know the names of constellations and stars, though, to grab meaning and purpose through his poems, as Kline leads the reader through our galaxy with simplicity. Starting off with a literal Big Bang, as the inaugural poem is titled, Kline questions his beginning as well.
My uncle wanted us to see
some not-famous comet. I wanted to see
the twins that charted my start.
The free-form poems in Kline’s collection make many shapes. His poem “To Transition” mimics a skipping wavelength, and “Final Transmission” mimics broken radio waves. “Lonely Code” is written entirely as a computer reboot system manifestation. Later, we see a sonnet in “After,” and a ghazal in “Ghazal The Stars”.
One of my favorite poems in his collection is “Oumuamua”. For those who do not know, Oumuamua is the first known interstellar object detected passing through the solar system^*. Kline begins the poem with time and distance.
In those brief months of nearness, the astronomers
noted your lack of tail or coma, analyzed your body
for asteroids indentations, trajectory cracks, scorches,
other evidence you were a craft, not a rock.
We see him attach accessible personification to “Oumuamua,” writing,
...I wanted to ask your age,
weight, your sign, your thoughts on Beyonce,
other cultures you encountered en route.
The poem ends with familiar themes in Kline’s work: sexuality and religion.
you could tell us if event horizons are orange
or yellow, if gravity squeals or squeaks, if you
resemble a cock because God likes to keep us guessing.
Readers will find other themes alongside sexuality and religion, as well as more than just the title’s astronomical radio source, Sagittarius A*. In “The Part I Know,” Kline makes a nod toward transformation:
transform into a poem about a blizzard funeral,
or slick thumb tugging my bottom
lip, a waxing crescent
hovering, a quick lover’s smile.
In “Satellites,” he describes empty space:
even unnamed, still a transition
to something somewhen.
And later in “Ghazal The Stars,” he again comments on himself:
...just another Ben who dreams of men
Kline’s collection leaves me wondering the following: Is time something we have created for ourselves? Is darkness more than just the absence of light? Is religion just on earth, or is it also followed elsewhere? And, as many have asked in Kline’s readings, who is AJL?
Trying to find these answers leads me to pin-point the crux of the collection, which is as provocative as the book’s publishing history.^** The crux of the book is summed up in the following thirteen words, in which Ben breathtakingly identifies how we assign nomenclature to our earth and sky:
...to make sounds to form words
to make names to place upon spaces
One might read Sagittarius A* as an astrophysics collection, and another might read the collection as a critique on our humanness in comparison to our galaxy’s animalness, its beastliness above us, cloaking us in mystery and awe. Either way, Kline’s words in the world, on our earth, allow us to see our galaxy in new light, and see our humanness as the complex force that assigns simple names to what we cannot know for certain.
Anyone who looks up to to wonder what instead of why, as Kline’s dedication reads, will find solace, intrigue, wonder, and answers to their innermost questions. His poems do what any successful poet aims to accomplish: inspire us to seek and still find.
Crystal Ignatowski’s poetry has been featured in Perhappened Mag, Glass, Barren Magazine, Four Way Review, and more. She is the Assistant Editor of Flypaper Lit. This is her first poetry review.