Review: Beyond the Cliffs

T. Kilgore Splake
Poetry, prose, and photographs
68 pages
5 ½” x 8 ½” trade paperback
Miskwabik Press
Calumet, Michigan USA
Review originally published on 8/18/09


This book is a series of old greybeard Beat-poet Bardic ramblings and musings from the master of writing such. It hails from my home state, full of beautiful full-color pictures that make me miss the spring and fall of Northern Michigan, about which most of this book is written. The writing style harks back to the Beat Generation, a mishmash of words and thoughts, line after line going on its own adventure, linear only to the esoteric author, often hard to follow as Splake throws visual after visual at you in speedball fashion; don’t blink because you will miss the one ball that connects you to the next thought, thus losing the clarity in any lines that follow.

Beyond the Cliffs contains page after page of homage to the author’s home, the cliffs of Northern Michigan, the outdoor life in the wilderness, and getting older as time passes, mourning the losses of fellow poets and long-gone artists, such as Marlon Brando and Jackson Pollock, through rambling poems and prose that travel on for pages. Splake throws grammar rules, punctuation, and capitalization on proper nouns (which I don’t find strange in poetry, but it always seems awkward in the prose pieces) right out the window, and there are several misspellings in here, as well, which I hate to see in nicely bound editions. Speaking of bound editions — and it might just be my copy, as that is always a possibility — the binding in this book appears to be weak, cracking if I bend it too far back, enabling pages to fall out or come unglued if I were to crack it any further. I don’t want to have to be that careful with my books, so I think that is unfortunate if it happens on all the copies and not just mine.

While on the technical side of things, I must also say that it is incredibly hard to tell where one poem ends and the next begins, with no distinct difference between titles (if, indeed, there are any?) or poem lines. It would definitely help if titles were bolded or set apart somehow, maybe in a different font; it might also help if the entire book were not center-justified, so just the titles could be centered, offsetting them from the rest of the poem. Sometimes I think there is a clear title, often randomly placed in the middle of the page in quotes, only to find that the poem still continues on talking about the same subject as the previous snippet, so I’m not sure if it is actually a new poem, or just a new section, or just a separated line that happens to be in quotes in the context of the poem. Perhaps there are no titles at all. On the plus side of this, however, I really don’t know if it is necessary, in Splake’s case, to need to have titles. All of the poems are about only a handful of subjects, mostly dealing with the cliffs, the loss of his love(s), and the loss of a man named Jim “Andy” Anderson, who seems to run throughout this book in memoriam; from “part time poet”:

he boasted
with self-important posturing
writing soulless haiku
premature ejaculations
on weekends
writing thin banal verse
mental masturbation
self-help psychobabble
greeting card nice
[ … ]

and “deafening”:

[ … ]
failing to see
spoken word’s emptiness
never reading best selling books
believing author’s blurb ignorance
[ … ].

Splake gets very sexy in some of the poems, even if it is quite non-linear, going from cooking

[ … ]
tender pink trout flesh
cheddar tomatoes tangy shallots
[ … ]

to

[ … ]
milk naked breasts
nursing dry nipples
[ … ]
honey wet pussy
[ … ]

all in the same poem and breath, with no clear segue in between. One thing I will say, for sure, is by the end of the book, you feel like you know something more about Splake — learning that his third wife had a mental breakdown after the birth of their child and had to be institutionalized, among other personal stories — and you take away a sense that he has been around the block a time or two and has earned the right to ramble about it in volumes. My favorite personal line, from “risks”:

[ … ]
changing wives and jobs
staying right with favorite teams
cubs celts michigan wolverines ny giants
[ … ]

as if it’s no big thing for wives and jobs to come and go, but, man, don’t lose sight of your favorite teams. I think this sums up Splake’s writing nicely, as the trooper inside still keeps trucking along. No fairweather fans here.