I feel lucky that I came in contact with this book. I hadn’t caught word of it ‘til Nate Pritts at H_NGM_N asked me to design promotional buttons for the thing. He sent me three of them in the mail along with the book, which looks like it can cut you open.
One of the epigrams comes from Patti Smith: I’ll give you one tip: use your fists. Here is a sizable chunk of the opening poem, “Gymnasium of the Sacred Heart,” which throws its fists like fight and celebration:
Two boys, wearing track jackets,
with shaved heads and smooth hands,
are breathing Pine-Sol out of
a plastic bag and breaking
into a car with coat hangers.
Sad, thin-skinned kids with flammable
names and feathers for lungs.
Who tape their regrets to the top of the Atari.
Who write out their girlfriends’ names in gasoline.
Who take a match to the front yard
before cutting a path through police tape
to get to a tall, cool, catholic school gym.
From the bleachers they stand as if to say
I sing for the canary gassed beyond belief
in the basement of the biology building.
I scream City of Love! City by the River!
Don’t disown your skinny fisted sons
locked inside the locker room.
They too are the father of you.
They too are made mostly of noise.
Reading Kopel’s book reminds me of listening to early U2 for the first time at 14, falling hard for how they were honest and wounded yet on fire, totally present and alive. Bono’s mother died when he was 14, and his lyrics often wrestle with his growing up as a boy desperate to fill her absence. VICTORY possesses that same fierce youthfulness, an anthem for beautiful and ragged sons who grow up keying names into car doors, kissing in parking lots, and hungering for whatever genuine loves can fill the absences they carry.
The only reason I didn’t finish the thing in one sitting was having to work and I’m going back through, being blown away again by these poems. If you’re not convinced, here’s another fireball called “Because We Must:”
The kids from the federal
tanning booths have burned
down the Dairy Queen again.
Everyone died warm
& no one was alone.
We had a good time. I remember ice cream.
I remember legs. I remember gym shorts.
A prayer, now
& at the hour of our death –
Fill me with yr light inside this car.
Fill me with yr light.