Please Come Off-Book by Kevin Kantor
Review by Kylie Thompson
Rating: 5 stars
Genre: Poetry, LGBTQI+, own voices
Publisher: Button Poetry
Author deets: @Kevin_Kantor (Twitter)
Button Poetry has a history of publishing collections that not only showcase the best poetic talents, but also the most complex social conversations. Button’s poets have a reputation for exploring the sort of topics generally banned at the family dinner table with compassion, empathy and care, leaving readers wanting more, certainly, but also more aware of the world outside their experiences. Their latest offering, Please Come Off-Book, by trans non-binary poet and theatre maker Kevin Kantor, certainly lives up to the hype, and the raw talent, of its predecessors.
Please Come Off-Book explores two of Kantor’s passions: acting and poetry, crafting a collection of poems that contemplate gender identity, family dynamics, growing up queer, and the lenses in which we see ourselves, and are seen.
It’s hard to talk about LGBTQIA+ authors speaking honestly without falling to descriptions like ‘brave’ and ‘empowering’. Being yourself in a way that harms nobody else should never be an act of bravery or a dangerous choice to make. And yet, here we are, with Kantor’s work being brave, and being a force for empowerment within a community that is too often victimised by cisgender and straight agendas. While I look forward to the day speaking personal truth isn’t considered anything other than normal, it’s important to acknowledge that the topics here are deeply personal, and at times focused on the negative costs of speaking truth. And that there is bravery is acknowledging the pain caused in Kantor’s efforts to live as their authentic self while they still seek to reassure others that they are not alone, and things will be okay.
Please Come Off-Book is a siren song, a rallying cry and a sanctuary for anyone feeling alone in the quest to feel at peace within their skin. It is frank and unflinching, veering between heart-aching grief, love, and hilarity. There are moments here where, as a reader, I can’t help but be angry on someone else’s behalf and yet, through it all, Kantor maintains a grace and compassion towards those that act unfairly.
It’s got to be said: the long, playfully descriptive title’s here have strong emo trinity vibes, and there are times I mentally added ‘by Fall Out Boy’ at the end because I have no impulse control. But, as with everything else within these pages, the long titles serve a stylistic and aesthetic purpose that I can’t help but enjoy and be impressed by.
A strength to Kantor’s work is their ability to explore form without it feeling like an exercise in intellectualism. The theatrical themes of the collection are reenforced by poems such as Stage Makeup Syllabus, which explores race and identity through the lens of a performance-focused class syllabus, or I Am Working A Nine-Month Contract At A Theatre In Lousville And Can’t Find A Good Therapist, So Instead I Go To The Literary Office And Ask If There’s A Dramaturg Available, which explores mental health through the lens of a dramaturg evaluating and discussing a piece of work.
Kantor’s playfulness with form is especially visible in the piece Meisner Technique: Repetition as the tightly woven back and forth forces readers to pause, read more closely, and to investigate the ways in which word placement patterns paint pictures beyond what’s being said. In stagecraft, it’s as much about the visuals as the lines being spoken, and Kantor has flawlessly brought the visual onto the page, creating moments where the poems create their own sets and backdrops.
If you’re not a fan of experimental poetry, or poetry that explores the social and political, or you’re just looking for some simple and upbeat pieces, this may not be your ideal read. But if you’re looking for poetry that makes you think, and feel, deeply, or poetry that reimagines how the poem meets the page, Please Come Off-Book needs to get moved to the top of your TBR pile immediately.
Please Come Off-Book is published by Button Poetry, and is available through the publisher’s website, and at selected bricks and mortar and online retailers.