“Watch Your Head” from Kellogg Press is a deeply felt collection of confessional poetry from Kevin Rabas, author of 11 books of poetry. “Watch Your Head,” his twelfth, carries a different beat than prior collections from the Kansas Poet Laureate Emeritus. These poems were written in the years between 1995 and 2000. It was a period of time when he was, as he describes, “higher on passion…lower on craft – or had a freer sense of craft.”

Revisiting these poems two decades later, polishing them and managing to keep the emotional integrity of the original work is a testament to his craftsmanship. The work as a whole speaks to me directly, with a voice full of new sincerity. It is the result of one man’s interiority becoming unbound through a controlled release. The words seem open, vulnerable and free to share:

There are words in this collection that have been repurposed from private consolement for public consumption. He is speaking his truth. Because of that, we all get to feel and hold the handmade pottery created by his ex-wife, that he once used to eat from, “I have/ one cup. I keep/ my pens in it.”

Kevin’s collection also references his drum instructor and mentor Artt Frank, who played with Chet Baker. “I don’t play bebop. I am bebop.” Kevin quotes, as an epigraph, in the poem “Chet’s Unlikely Second Rise.” There are parallels throughout the work in the importance of Artt in the lives of Kevin and Chet. Artt is instrumental in both of their reemergences: [Chet’s Unlikely Second Rise.

Kevin was injured during a pickup basketball game. He suffered a traumatic brain injury that left him with a concussion and bleeding in the brain. The injury affected his cognitive ability. He couldn’t remember what he read. It affected his equilibrium and motor skills. He found solace in playing the drums and writing poetry. “Watch Your Head” is about that transition in his life. Where he lost a marriage, a job and independence.

Somehow, he finds a balance in this collection. Hope can soothe softly in the form of blooming love. It can add stability to a person’s life. He wrote love poems to his current wife, Lisa Mortiz.: [Apartment Warming]

They are heartfelt, romantic and hopeful poems. I found myself reading them multiple times and sharing them with loved ones. I understood better that some losses we incur in life allow us to find where we were meant to be: [Our Time]

Kevin’s poems are honest and elegant. They speak of a place he had once been and of a place he was longing to go: [Moving in]

To title the book “Watch Your Head” reminded me that, when you are in the fight of your life and you want to win, you need to be like a boxer, you need to watch your head and move your hands. And if you lose, get up and try again. Don’t lose your head over it. Keep after it. Never quit. This is what it takes to win in the end. Keep beating that drum. For Kevin, I believe that was done with a bass, with a pen and with his heart.

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Huascar Medina

Huascar is a poet, writer, and performer who lives in Topeka. He currently works as a freelance copywriter and as the Literary Editor for seveneightfive magazine publishing stories that spotlight literary and artistic events in northeast Kansas. He is the winner of ARTSConnect's 2018 Arty Award for Literary Art.

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