then, we were still living
A 2011 Lambda Literary Award Finalist
GenPop Books, 2010
Poetry | 6″x8″, 68 pp., trade paperback
In these roughly whispered poems, Klein somehow—miraculously—manages to evoke a past of empty suitcases, of ghosts, while being fully present in the moment, in the now. In this way each phrase, each utterance, is completely weighted-their music enters us deeply, even as they seemingly drift past.
Every once in a great while, someone writes a book that changes the way I read poems. Michael Klein’s then, we were still living is one of those books. Its language is so close to the bone, there’s nothing to interfere with or soften the intimate transactions between reader and poem. When the subject is death, or love, or the great metaphysical questions asked by the soul—and every poem in the book is on that scale—we see that meaning and language are one and the same. I’m going to give copies to everyone I know.
Several years ago I heard Michael Klein read a four line poem from what was to become this remarkable new collection, then, we were still living, and thinking that he had gotten to the heart of the new, changed world. Now, I am sure of it. Everything in this book is terrifying and beautiful and necessary and there isn’t one syllable that isn’t absolutely required by the times we live in. This is a wholly original and essential book.
then, we were still living begins with the gorgeous short poem, “Bread,” and moves on with precision and concision from one glory to the next. I think “The Ranges” is one of the most searing poems of fathers and sons in our time, and the poem “The Twin” is the best poem ever written on the subject of twinship. Michael Klein sees the world broadly, deeply and clearly, and uses each word with ultimate care. This is an important and essential book of poems.
Dear Reader, you feel “more in the world” after Michael Klein has flooded you with light in these poems. You blink. There’s the page, sure, as a membrane between the living and the dead, the (sexy) body and the soul, but you’re less sure of the divisions as you feel your way around the old, modern, American, excruciating, “always movie” of the real. In this condition, dear Reader, you’re vulnerable to something like awe.
It might be silly to speak of an author’s fourth book as a sophomore effort, but in terms of poetry, Klein has achieved what every author strives for in a second book of poems. His voice is recognizable, while his craft has sharpened, and his inquiries have grown more complex. It’s hard to imagine that anyone who has waited seventeen years for this book will be disappointed.
Klein transitions into a different kind of vocabulary on the topic of death without setting off any alarms, subtly restructuring the way we perceive the chasm between the living and the dead. His treatment of the matter is so casual and understated that the leap feels natural and comfortable. By the time we notice him tiptoeing around our preconceived notions, he has already stomped straight through the heart of them. . . .
Klein is never coarse; even when bawdy, he is subtle, self-deprecating – and loving. Klein dares us. And for the few minutes we are his reader, we are fortunate that he is in our world. . . .
Dedicated to Adrienne Rich, Michael Klein’s then, we were still living begins with bread, ends with light, and bleeds a little in between. With poems that derive their power from grief … Klein lights a stage whereupon figures of the speaker’s personal loss of his mother and twin brother stand next to those of America’s expiry post 9/11.
The matter-of-fact tone and the all-but-absent-lyricism mark this book as of this time—the post-9/11, recession-beaten, warring, and electronically-oversaturated era. Klein speaks for those of us who are trying to decipher between what is real and what is illusion; these poems depict a speaker who is, like many of us today, trying to stay not only alive, but sentient, all the while bearing witness to the current tides of war, financial collapse, and personal loss. . . .
About the Author
Michael Klein’s books are: Track Conditions, a memoir, The End of Being Known, a memoir, and 1990, a book of poems which tied with James Schuyler to win a Lambda Literary Award in 1993. He teaches in the MFA Program at Goddard College and is on the summer faculty at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. He is currently working on a book version of his blog to be called States of Independence. He divides his time between Provincetown and New York City. Read more at the GenPop author page for Michael Klein.
See also: Readings & events for Michael Klein.