LARB Reviews Adam Kirsch’s THE DISCARDED LIFE!

ADAM KIRSCH’S FOURTH BOOK of poetry, The Discarded Life, is an autobiography in blank verse, organized into 40 numbered parts, like cantos, each averaging a comfortable 26 or 27 lines, which, if given titles, could probably stand on their own as individual poems. In sequence, they offer a detailed, moving, and exquisitely readable chronological journey through Kirsch’s Los Angeles upbringing, from the perspective of a writer who is, like Dante, nel mezzo del cammin, reckoning with the first half of his life.

Kirsch states his purpose in the opening section:

If now’s the time, before I age into
The wisdom or indifference of detachment,
To write down something of the way it happened,
It’s not because the circumstances matter,
But that the soul of meaning can’t survive
Outside the body of contingency.

The interesting paradox here is that the detritus of what Kirsch calls “a few old mementoes of the mind” is absorbing stuff, worthy of serving as the driving force behind the narrative, along with Kirsch’s sobering recognition that “[e]ventually the past begins to leak / The meanings that I took such pains to store there.” The Discarded Life functions as his alembic for distilling the past’s liquid fermentations, and also as the seasoned oak cask for preserving the condensations.