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Orders of Service

By Willie Lee Kinard III

Call it reverse type or blackout mode, Willie Lee Kinard III’s debut, Orders of Service: A Fugue, includes white text on black paper, as in “Boomerang, or a Chorus of Onlooking Fireflies Captions the Previous Poem,” described in the notes as a “ghazal-like exploration.” The phrase “& lightning followed” recurs throughout this poem and across the collection, serving, Kinard tells us,

as an onlooking Greek chorus, the voice of the collective speaker emerges & vanishes as “six-word story” sentences, each rewinding & erasing as if in the six-second Instagram Boomerang flash video format.

You might say Kinard has done the critics’ work for them.

These poems are so alive that the poet’s claim that an abecedarian prose poem is “cognizant of its own list contents & thus, has alphabetized them” resonates. But formal dexterity is the least interesting aspect of this collection, which is inventive and vibrant in sound, sense, and sensibility, as in “The Choir, or Chatteracks”:

For eons, I katydid & Mary-don’t-you-whip the Methuselah
from the knees of my ensemble & every pew-bound bee
   asking how
we making more noise than them—as they said, molding the Lord’s honey & making
them look bad. In a word, yes: shaking does the body good. But, I will say
how I felt it: the dry rot of not-dusk & corners of Pastor’s
   big lips
already annoyed that we even dare be hollering for Bug-Jesus

Decidedly Southern in their roots—Kinard hails from South Carolina—these poems are rich in allusion and transcendently sweaty with song and sex, sourced from gospel and Greek myths and online dating. There’s catfishing and a “Hymn: Chainsweat,” and “Aubade: Nocturne” begins with a “wolfish grind,” as

From a distance, we are two curs fogging a parked Chrysler,
though this, only half-accurate. In our nest, we transcend sex
-ed things, white-hot spangles like dead gods, the glow of us

In “A Tangle of Gorgons,” the speaker reveals: “The second / time I cried for a man, my heart became a stone / I’m not sure I can pass off for a body part.”

“[A]nd lightning followed” is a fitting tagline for an explosive debut that deals in sonic aftershocks lit up by wit and homage.

Reviewed By Rebecca Morgan Frank
Cover of Orders of Service by Willie Lee Kinard III
Publisher Alice James Books
Pages 100
Date November 14, 2023
  • Winner of the 2022 Alice James Award
Price $17.95