Winner of the 2015 Four Way Books Levis Prize in Poetry, judged by Martha Collins.
Late in the Empire of Men
Late in the Empire of Men, Kempf’s powerful debut collection, reads the author’s coming-of-age in Ohio and California against the westward trajectory of American history, a trajectory he simultaneously situates in the larger context of empire—both political and anthropocentric—by looking back to Rome and Carthage and by glancing forward to a time when, as he writes in the poem “Dominion,” “the idea of people/ is over.” Employing a baroque layering of image and allusion, patterned sonic texturing, and post-narrative self-consciousness, Kempf reveals how commonplace rhetorical practices—football’s valorization of a “warrior ethos,” for example—work to conscript young American men, in particular, into patterns of thought and behavior constitutive of an imperialist state.
“High School Graduation Party,” from Late in the Empire of Men:
They are all, of course, entirely too cool to be here. They have learned exactly that look of certain, self-assured contempt they will wear this summer, bound, most of them, for some lush campus somewhere their parents’ parents, dead now, never saw. For their small dark rooms of Bacardi & sex. Envy is not the word. Though I am old enough now to understand there is no pleasure