Tap Out: Poems

Tap Out: Poems

By:  Edgar Kunz

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"Charts the gritty, physical terrain of blue-collar masculinity."―New York Times New & Noteworthy

“Kunz arrives with real poetic talent.”—The Millions, “Must Read Poetry”

"[A] gritty, insightful debut." —Washington Post

Winner of the 2019 Julia Ward Howe Award for Poetry

Approach these poems as short stories, plainspoken lyric essays, controlled arcs of a bildungsroman, then again as narrative verse. Tap Out, Edgar Kunz’s debut collection, reckons with his working‑poor heritage. Within are poignant, troubling portraits of blue‑collar lives, mental health in contemporary America, and what is conveyed and passed on through touch and words―violent, or simply absent.

Yet Kunz’s verses are unsentimental, visceral, sprawling between oxys and Bitcoin, crossing the country restlessly. They grapple with the shame and guilt of choosing to leave the culture Kunz was born and raised in, the identity crises caused by class mobility. They pull the reader close, alternating fierce whispers and proud shouts about what working hands are capable of and the different ways a mind and body can leave a life they can no longer endure. This hungry new voice asks: after you make the choice to leave, what is left behind, what can you make of it, and at what cost?

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  • Format: Paperback

  • ISBN-13/EAN: 9781328518125

  • ISBN-10: 1328518124

  • Pages: 112

  • Price: $14.99

  • Publication Date: 03/05/2019

  • Carton Quantity: 24

Edgar Kunz

Edgar Kunz

Edgar Kunz was born and raised in New England. His work has been supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Academy of American Poets, the MacDowell Colony, Vanderbilt University, and Stanford University, where he was a Wallace Stegner Fellow. He lives in Baltimore, Maryland, where he teaches at Goucher College and in the MFA program at Salve Regina University.    
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  • reviews

    Winner of the 2019 Nautilus Book Gold Award for Poetry 


    "[A] gritty, insightful debut." —Washington Post 


    “A whirlwind debut. Stories of sclerotic lives told in wrought images, Kunz arrives with real poetic talent…[he] pulls us into his poems and keeps us there through crisp detail…(A hint: trust poets who show back to you the images you’ve seen in glimpses and tucked in the back of your mind.)…Tap Out lives in a bittersweet world, and does so well, but there’s also fine touches here: a mother who has had enough, a son who sees beauty in loss…”—Nick Ripatrazone, The Millions, “Must Read Poetry” 


    “This powerful collection reads like an elegy and a confession, like a slap to the face followed by a plaintive kiss, like watching bad things happen and knowing that you’re complicit. Yet cutting through every one of these essential poems is a gritty, naturalistic beauty that makes me want to read them again and again. Tap Out is a gem, and Edgar Kunz is a major talent.” — Andre Dubus III, author of Gone So Long and Townie 


    "There’s so much to say about Kunz’s debut poetry collection...As gritty as the close-up of calloused, grease-covered hands that serve as its cover, echoing the way Kunz offers portraits of his “working-poor heritage” with unapologetic proximity and poignant verse. But the matter of which these hands are positioned unassumingly, as though caught mid-prayer or plea, suggest the earnest, yet carefully unsentimental, tenderness that these poems carry throughout the book. Kunz writes about the mental health of blue‑collar lives, through the blueprint of narratives lifted from a distant relationship of a father and a son. While contextualized in contemporary America, the poems hit close to the reality of several Filipinos, especially in this time of the pandemic when we are forced to confront the aching gaps between socio-economic divides.” — CNN Philippines 


    “These poems have a  pervasive physicality that is both rewarding and horrifying…Arresting imagery, unexpected detail, brilliant use of tensions, a flowing rhythm and overall accessibility make this a collection to be read and re-read. Tap Out superbly mines the beauty, brutality, tensions and contradictions of working-class U.S. communities.”–Shelf Awareness 


    "There is no ground of existence that does not require (or fail to sustain) its poet. This proposition, requiring continual re-proving, has found again its confirmation in Edgar Kunz’s first book. In the lineage of Levine, Jordan, and Laux, Tap Out presents the data of blows received and taken in fully. Yet these poems do not return blow for blow; they offer instead an unflinching, continued allegiance to abiding connection. Without summation or comment, they remind us that all alchemies of being are possible. Kunz’s precision-tool language of memory and witness enlarges, pivots, pieces together the broken into a world made new, survivable, holdable, forgiven.” — Jane Hirshfield, author of The Beauty and Come, Thief 


    "Kunz’s debut collection is a hard-hitting journey through tightly crafted poems that capture a culture on the edge of an abyss. Kunz’s work is haunted by ghosts, some long-gone, others still wandering the corridors of memory...Kunz's solid and rewarding first book reminds us that in the battle to survive and to live, a poetic light can shine through."—Booklist 


    “Edgar Kunz’s startling debut, Tap Out, is one of the best books of poetry I’ve read in a long time. These poems interrogate what is received and what is bequeathed in our damaged systems of masculinity, and they do so in ways that are unexpectedly vulnerable. At the same time, the poems are onomatopoeia of humility and busted machismo. It’s as if the poems themselves are surprised by how much harm has been done, how much energy and emotion have been expended simply surviving inside of our toxic patriarchy. Fathers are complicit. Friends and brothers are complicit. The speaker is complicit, too, and yet the poems do their vital work without soapboxing. They search constantly for better ways of being human. These are essential poems.” — Adrian Matejka, author of The Big Smoke and Map to the Stars 


    "Kunz crafts a poetics of disappointment and consolation...[the] poems are sparse and accessible, reminiscent of Hemingway in both content and style, and feature an extraordinary new voice that draws its energy from an underrepresented perspective." —Publishers Weekly, starred review 


    “The sustained lyricism of these poems is all the more powerful for being burned at the edges by memory, by grief, by regret. In terms of craft, this poetry creates a world where human action reaches language the way gravity bends starlight: in a drama of weight and light. This is a hard-pressed place, a territory of failed relationships and regions that never becomes landscape. As its reporter, Edgar Kunz lives up to its challenges and understands its limits. This is a wonderful first book, memorable and unsettling.” — Eavan Boland, author of A Woman Without a Country  


    "Kunz will eschew observation’s safe distance, and will instead zoom in closely...[The] ability...to transmogrify a familiar phrase or word into something unknown stands as one of Kunz’s major talents. The poems grow up with their poet...refuse simplistic renderings of complicated dynamics...and opt instead for a vulnerability." —On the Seawall 


    Tap Out is an ardent and gorgeous refusal to scorn the aches and wounds that bring us closer to mercy. Rippling with both sorrow and wonder, Edgar Kunz’s narratives sift through the intricacies of masculinity, working-class lives, and abandonment. The telling isn’t singed with nostalgia that obscures pain: his muscular lines make visible the scars that tether the self to hurt, to hope. The language is deftly scored on the page—the diction itself is revelatory. ShopRite. Larch. Chamber-throat. This book reminds us the heart has its own intelligence.” — Eduardo C. Corral, author of Slow Lightning 


    “Edgar Kunz extends the legacy of James Wright and Philip Levine in these gutsy, tough-minded, working-class poems of memory and initiation. Tap Out is a marvelous debut, a well-made and harrowing book.” — Edward Hirsch, author of Gabriel and A Poet’s Glossary

  • excerpts

    After the Hurricane 


                                                                      Three hundred 


    miles north, my father beds down in a van by the Connecticut River. 

    Snow tires rim-deep in the silt. He has a wool horse blanket 


    tacked inside the windshield. A pair of extra pants bunched 

    into a pillow. He has a paper bag of partially smoked butts. 


    A Paw Sox cap. A Zippo. He has state-sponsored cell phone minutes 

     and a camo jacket hung on the sideview to dry. He can see the Costco 


    parking lot through the trees. Swelling and emptying out. He wants 

    to fix things with his wife. He wants a couch to crash on. 


    He wants a drink. He wants sex. He has a few cans of kidney beans 

    and a tin of ShopRite tuna. Wrinkled plastic piss bottles line the dash. 


    Sometimes he walks out to the river and lets the wind sift his lank 

    and matted hair. Sometimes he peels his socks and stands 


    in the murky current and thinks about his wife. The birthmark 

    on her neck. Her one toe longer than the others. Her freckled hands. 


    He tries to hold her hands in his mind. He tries to remember 

    the birth years of his sons. He tries to make sense of the papers 


    he signed. The icy water wetting the hem of his pants. The river stones 

    sharp underfoot. The wind. I hold him like this in my mind 


    all afternoon. 






    In the Supply Closet at Illing Middle 


    Mike pins me to the sink, forearm 

                    levered against my throat, flexing 

                                    the needle-nose pliers in one hand. 


    He and Ant examine the hole in my head 

                    where the pencil lead snapped off, blood 

                                    leaking down my temple 


    and pooling in my ear. I squirm 

                    and Mike presses harder. Hold still. 

                                    I know how to do this. 


    I know what he means: our fathers 

                    used to salvage wrecks in Mike’s sideyard. 

                                    Hammer out the paneling, 


    clean the fouled spark plugs 

                    with spit. Flip them for cash or drive them 

                                    until the transmission seized. 


    If they didn’t know where 

                    one came from, they pulled it 

                                    into the garage, sold it off quick. 


    Now, Ant stands lookout 

                    in the doorway. Half-watching 

                                    for teachers and half-watching Mike, 


    who rinses my hair 

                    with floor cleaner thick 

                                    as motor oil. Eases my head 


    toward the weak light 

                    of the pull-chain bulb. Presses 

                                    the pliers to my skull, and starts to dig. 





    Free Armchair, Worcester 


    He pinches the j between his first two fingers squints an eye against the ribbon of smoke sliding up and over his cheekbone. It’s me my buddy Ant and Ant’s stepdad Randy a half-ass house painter who’s always trying to hit us up for weed or pills even though we’re thirteen and don’t do pills or have any idea how to get them. We’re driving Randy’s work van into Worcester to pick up a recliner he found in the free section of the Globe. Ant hates his guts and I don’t like him much either but Ant’s always doing stuff for me like asking his mom if I can stay the night or sneaking me empanadas when my dad doesn’t come home so I go along Ant up front me in the back bracing myself against the wheelwells trying not to get knocked around too bad. Randy pulls up in front of the house and we try stuffing the armchair in the back but the arms are too wide. We flip it on one end heave it onto the roof. Lash it down with a tangle of rope from the glovebox and step back. It’s not a bad-looking chair. Fabric ratty at the edges but sturdy. Mostly clean. Randy twists another j to celebrate and buys us sandwiches. We post up in an Arby’s parking lot the three of us cracking jokes Randy belting folk songs in Spanish. Recliner strapped to the van like a prize buck. He flicks the roach into the weeds says but you skinny-asses you little faggots you could barely lift it and we stop laughing. I look over at Ant and he’s sort of picking at his jeans face tight like he got caught doing something dumb like he’s ashamed or something and for a second it’s like what’s gonna happen has already happened. Like the rope’s already snapped the armchair gone headlong into the road behind us. Like we’r...

Available Resources

Related Categories

  • Format: Paperback

  • ISBN-13/EAN: 9781328518125

  • ISBN-10: 1328518124

  • Pages: 112

  • Price: $14.99

  • Publication Date: 03/05/2019

  • Carton Quantity: 24

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