by Douglas Livingston
If you’re anything close to a regular reader of my reviews, you probably caught a bit of my love of Beat literature, and you can probably imagine my excitement when I discovered that we had something of a Beat poet right here in Thunder Bay. Of course, while I have had the pleasure of hearing Livingston read of his poems and have skimmed a few in print, I wanted to wait until at least reading Allen Ginsberg’s Howl before giving Kata Hodos a go, to hopefully get a bit more out of the experience. Now that I got through that and with Livingston reading once again shortly––at the time of writing this, anyway––it seemed like a great time to attempt this book of poetry.
Kata Hodos is a collection of Livingston’s poetry written between 2012 and 2013 with a main focus on the disintegration of perception, in his own words. The big thing that stands out within his work is the rich imagery he employs throughout; you get hit with a wave of emotions, oftentimes experiencing a sense of dread or sadness, as you explore the book. While things can be somewhat hard to understand due to the ambiguous images employed, the author seems to flit between several themes throughout. Some poems appear to hint at the loss of a child, but I think they relate more to a creative crisis Livingston experienced in his youth. Originally dissatisfied with school and the way it stifled him creatively, he seems to relate being seduced by the system, the prospect of a typical education and stable career moving him far enough from his passion that he effectively killed it. (The imagery related to miscarriage, abortion, and stillbirth is fitting in this interpretation, especially when he invokes mastic pain: Much like a swollen breast aching due to the pressure from being unable to breastfeed, Livingston has the urge to express himself creatively, but doesn’t yet possess the ability to relieve the urge, the tension.) As well, in exploring his memories, the author not only expresses the sadness with which he recalls loneliness and what seems to be what he considers a lost youth, but also his declining mental function and how it relates to his mortality, even seemingly considering ending his life before his mental decline progresses, contemplating this hard decision while he still can.
While I love each poem separately, the major failing in the collection is that Livingston reuses quite a bit of his imagery, often putting poems together that cover similar themes, repeating specific phrases one after the other. Kata Hodos is still wonderfully written and hugely expressive, but I’d probably recommend taking a longer time to get through it than I did, not necessarily to aid in understanding––though, this probably will help if you struggle at all––but more to insulate yourself from this repetition. And keep in mind that Livingston’s collection is unlike anything else you’ll manage to find in Thunder Bay.