The Cosmology of Transience: Kevin Opstedal's California Redemption Value

Alex Rieser

I don’t know a writer who doesn’t struggle in some way with the place that they’re from. Often I wonder if my hometown, the place that I was raised and spent my youth, is the only place I will truly ever resonate with. The only place I can ever understand. Some writers leave and find it impossible to resonate with any place but home—take Cesar Vallejo who left Peru for Paris after producing his master work Trilce only to feel stunted for the rest of his life, perpetually waiting for some redemptive future that might never arrive. Some return to that home wherever they go; Joyce with Dublin, Olson with Gloucester, Opstedal with the California coast. Opstedal was born and raised in Venice and at moments in California Redemption Value it becomes evident that nobody knows California like he does.

But it’s a complicated knowledge, and the struggle is apparent. California Redemption Value captures the melancholy of this “indistinct Paradise,” (106) the eclectic, ferocious beauty of the coast, and the poverty of relationships in vagrant encounters. A landscape dominated by nature where relationships exist only in the memory of past nights and in the face of the ambivalent tide. In this condition of transience, the most completely conceived characters are Kevin’s (and my) favorite literary figures and they are cross-dressing and hitch-hiking in zigzags along PCH in a world where California is Rome and all roads inevitably lead back. But this is a condemnation, imagine Kerouac’s On the Road but with no getting out.

I’m interested most by the cosmology of transience found in Opstedal’s poems. The players of the book are characterized by their lack of articulation—effigies of figures pulled from the pages of a book found in a junk pile at “the Existential Thrift Store.” (25) I think these poets running around serves as a foil for the relationships with the living inhabitants of Kevin’s California, with whom understandings cannot seem to be formed. That: “Baudelaire / bottled beer” (80) and “Drinking cough syrup with John Keats” (79) are there in place of the connections that are constantly faltering.

Moments where actual people come into the poems mirror the speaker’s loneliness: “her eyes/ were chrome-plated replicas” (24) as though Opstedal might step into them like Orpheus into the silver mirror. Or this frighteningly beautiful image found in In The Wind:

“I could watch her take

                        her clothes off forever

wondering if she could

go all the way like

down to peeling the

flesh from her body to

reveal her pure white bones

                        & then crush those

                                    bones into a fine white

powder you could watch get

                        blown away by the wind” (83)


Always silent, always inextricably pulled by the wind or the tide, so that this description of a wave becomes also a metaphor in all respects for the coming and going of people in the collection: “I watched walls of sheet glass stand up like vertical swimming pools then crash soundlessly in on themselves. It was all very quiet.” (23) The building-up is inseparable from the falling away for Opstedal. And the descriptions of these wraith-like acquaintances go on, they are the stuff of legend: “resembling nothing so much as those faceless inhabitants of dreams who carry messages from deep in where the dreaming’s stored.” (100)

This California terrain becomes as the beach, a broken, a jagged piece of a puzzle; but as any puzzle section it inevitably fits into another and with one poem in particular titled Long Division we hear echoes of Long Beach, and pieces of Pismo, and of course Ted Berrigan’s Sonnets:

Long Division


Since this both ethereal & sublunary compass

  remove assured innocence disguised as this our

absence such as would obliquely endure an

  elemental breach the eternal vigil at the corner

taco stand may portent dull privations for

  what’s left of a love this pure

The trees tossing their leaves so cleverly against

  the window glass the wind revising the sky

such grace here bends in fever or else with

  counsel as it were to other things past all recompense

You’d mark those hours notched with a dull blade all that

  may be imputed worthy of several epiphanies

but none so diminished as one assigned to shadows

  & so as if a religion could be built of resignation alone

you betray the obdurate passion that lies beneath (105)

with what are probably the most enlivened line breaks of the book, this poem is exemplary of D. A. Powell’s concept that poets attempt again and again to write the same poem getting a bit closer to the ideal with every version, until we write ourselves into silence on the subject. But I think there’s more to it than that, I think that as the waves’ dull roar is constant, perhaps there can be no silence for Kevin, that this continuous scattering of encounter is an eternal vigil to the landscape.  And if there has ever been a single line capable of encompassing the movement of an entire book, that line is: “as if a religion could be built of resignation alone”. I would recommend this book to anyone who has ever argued with the terrain of their home (the struggle within-which all we are is upheld), which is everyone.

California Redemption Value

By Kevin Opstedal

UNO Press




Beyond and Back: Writing That Risks
Robert O'Connell

Making Americans: Children’s Literature from 1930 to 1960
Charlie Kennedy

Sunday Best: People on Sunday by Geoffrey G. O'Brien
John Gibbs

I've Always Wanted to Use Malarky in a Review: Trances of the Blast by Mary Ruefle
Cassie Duggan

The Streets of Buffalo, à la Carte: Thea Swanson’s The Curious Solitude of Anise
Charles Haddox

A Witty and Delightfully Engaging Collection: Ten Years in the Tub by Nick Hornby
Charlie Kennedy

Spanish Author's Debut in English: End of Love by Marcos Giralt Torrente
Erin Berman

A Riveting Read: Emmaus by Alessandro Baricco
Erin Berman

We'll Be the Last Ones to Let You Down: Memoir of a Gravedigger's Daughter by Rachael Hanel
J. Haley Campbell

This Feeling of Empathy: Participants by Andrew Keating
Joe Ransom

Portrait of a Poet: Coming Close: Forty Essays on Philip Levine
John Gibbs

Rediscovering Levine: A Reissue of Sweet Will
John Gibbs

Meandering Toward Meaning in Michelle Herman's Stories We Tell Ourselves
Morgan Vogel Chinnock

Skin I'm In: Ariana Nadia Nash's Instructions for Preparing Your Skin
Cassie Duggan

SplitLevel Texts: A Cruel Nirvana and The Treatment of Monuments
Patrick James Dunagan

A Race to Understand a Troubled Place: Michael Lavigne's The Wanting
Alex Rieser

Lenore Zion's Wicked Smart Novel Stupid Children
J. Haley Campbell

Into the Tangled Dark: Jay Ponteri's Wedlocked
Morgan Vogel Chinnock

Stalking Wolf Haas's The Bone Man
Charlie Kennedy

A Painter's Poet: Karen Rigby's Chinoiserie
John Gibbs

Bridging the Gaps: Ways of Going Home by Alejandro Zambra
Erin Berman

Manu Joseph's The Illicit Happiness of Other People, A Novel
Charlie Kennedy

Courttia Newland Explores London’s Social Rifts in The Gospel According to Cane
Andrew Blackman

A Sharp Debut: Jamie Sharpe's Animal Husbandry Today
John Gibbs

Susan Wheeler's Meme: A Contagious Book of Poems
Cassie Duggan

Joshua Cohen's Verbal Gymnastics: Four New Messages
Juli C. Lasselle


The Grittiness and Challenge of Zadie Smith's NW
Charlie Kennedy

Minnesotan Dragons in Mindy Mejia’s The Dragon Keeper
Inge Lamboo

Pianos and Poems: Oni Buchanan's Must a Violence
John Gibbs

Verbal Tumbleweeds: Davy Rothbart's My Heart is an Idiot
Catherine Wargo Roberts

As Labyrinthine as the Streets of Moscow: Caroline Clark's Saying Yes in Russian
paul kavanagh

A Bell Ringing in a Place Thought Dead: Safe as Houses
Michelle Boise

Purple Passages and Captain Poetry’s Sucker Punch
Patrick James Dunagan

On Lecturing Poetically: Ruefle's Madness, Rack, and Honey
John Gibbs

Travels in Puerto Rico
Charlie Kennedy

Breaking New Ground: Between Heaven and Here
Erin Berman

Invest in Stock: Norman Stock's Pickled Dreams Naked
John Gibbs

As if it Fell from the Sun: Celebrating Poetry from EtherDome
Chelsea DeRose

They, Too, Sing America: Buckley & Ott's Poets' Guide to America
John Gibbs

Renegade Documents:
Tlemcen or Places of Writing & Opera Omnia
Patrick James Dunagan

Something Out There: Catherine Chandler’s This Sweet Order
Jonathon Penny

Jennifer Miller's Daring The Year of the Gadfly
Eric D. Goodman

Coastal Poetry: Dear Oxygen and California Redemption Value
Patrick James Dunagan

The Cosmology of Transience: Kevin Opstedal's California Redemption Value
Alex Rieser

Collective Memory in Evelyn Posamentier's Poland at the Door
Trena Machado

We Have to Stop Being Fearful: Paul Kavanagh’s Iceberg
Charles Haddox

A Life's Work: Sheer Indefinite by Skip Fox
Patrick James Dunagan

Syntax as Music in Arisa White’s Hurrah’s Nest
Karen Biscopink

Alone Together: David Landrum's The Impossibility of Epithalamia
Robbi Nester

Nature, Terror and Renewal in Zilka Joseph’s What Dread
Michelle Regalado Deatrick

Meditating on Aline Soules' Meditation on Woman
Carol Smallwood

A Little Night Music: Kenneth Frost’s Night Flight
Christina Cook

The Joy of Carol Smallwood's Compartments: Poems on Nature, Femininity and Other Realms
Aline Soules