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Viper Rum

3.96  ·  Rating details ·  379 ratings  ·  29 reviews
In her third collection of poetry, Viper Rum, Mary Karr delves into autobiographical subject matter; various beloveds are birthed and buried in these touching lyrics, some of which, as the title suggests, deal with drink:

I cast back to those last years
I drank, alone nights at the kitchen sink,
bathrobed, my head hatching snakes,
while my baby slept in his upstairs cage
Paperback, 78 pages
Published September 1st 2001 by Penguin Group (first published April 1st 1998)
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Apr 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
there will be many re readings of this slim volume of poetry. it is tight and cohesive and spare in its language, while addressing more than what I expected. karr has the same mastery of allusion as heaney, but used her language to more devastating effect. these are poems for mothers, for ex addicts, for the lost, for the broken, for the found. so incredibly good.
Apr 05, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Fierce, brilliant work here. Like exploring an open wound. Not for the timid. Not for those unwilling nor unable to explore darkness or go outside the bounds of textbook time-lines.
Amy Neftzger
Jul 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
I've several of her books and I really enjoy Mary Karr's writing. This particular book has a nice selection of poems, but it also contains a well constructed essay at the end called "Against Decoration." This essay was the highlight of the book for me because Karr explains why she doesn't like this style of writing and builds a strong case. The book is worth reading just for the essay and is something that I think many new writers should read as they develop their own styles and voices. ...more
Oct 09, 2008 rated it liked it
Best line from this book: "Your head's a bad neighborhood:/ Don't go there alone, even if you have to stop/ strangers to ask the way, and even if/spiders fall from your open mouth." ...more
Donald Armfield
Feb 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
Just look at the cover of this poetry collection, and know after reading this review. It's something you can sink your teeth into.

I will be looking into more of Mary Karr. My favorites below.

-Viper Rum
-Incant Against Suicide
-The Last of the Brooding Miserables
-Domestic Ruins
-Lifecycle Stairmaster
-Choosen Blindness
Cori Crooks
Aug 16, 2011 rated it it was amazing
These poems read like chocolate in your mouth.
i didn't expect there to be an afterward but i unexpectedly loved it (so much to the point that i'm just going to talk about her afterward here instead of the poems themselves... which i really enjoyed too).

on one hand, i don't think her afterward (which shits on poetry's recent stylistic history, i.e. Old White People becoming more pretentious and intentionally making their work very obscure/impossible to read) would exist if poetry wasn't only seen in the context of old white men, which sadly
Jun 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Viper Rum is a stunning, vivid collection. Karr illuminates moments bringing them into clear view before often turning to raw, provocative observations.
Jul 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed her poetry style. Edgy. Funny. Melancholy. Sort of a mash-up of Mary Oliver and Charles Bukowski. And her essay critique of ornament in modern (circa 1990’s) poetry was excellent!
Oct 07, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
What I 'really liked' was the essay, "Against Decoration" in which Karr strikes out with viperous venom on poetry's neo-formalists: the Amy Clampitts, Brad Leithausers and not least the James Merrills and Helen Vendlers who dominated American letters in the 80s-90s (even earlier I think, but I know them from that time). The neo-formalists wowed the reader with form and meter, metaphor and imagery, at the cost (claims Karr) of meaning and emotion. All of us who came of age as poets during this pe ...more
May 08, 2011 rated it really liked it
I came to Mary Karr's writing via her 2 memoirs. At the time, I wasn't aware that her writing origin was poetry. Her prose flows with vivid scenes, rich imagery, and a sense of irony. Eager to enjoy Karr's skill in a different genre, I couldn't wait to get my hands on her poetry.

Viper Rum has a strong streak of autobiography. Many of the poems refer to her years of alcoholism. The title poem discusses walking away from offered shots after remembering drinking alone at night while her baby slept.
Jack Waters
Karr's a great poet. She seems to care quite a bit about both form and content in a poem and its ability to evoke emotion and great pleasure in the process, which leaves a lasting impression or memorable phrase. She also has a short essay after her poems which goes a great deal into eviscerating neo-formalism, as she feels it is a bastardization of good poetry akin to mere bare husks with blood let out. If you like her memoirs, you should definitely read these. If you don't, then carry on with y ...more
Corey Wozniak
Nov 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I will need more time and several rereads to fully process Karr's work. "Viper Rum" is quite brilliant in the way it pairs Karr's poetry with her thought provoking and controversial essay "Against Decoration", as it sets up the scenario for the question of "does one practice what one preaches?" My short answer to this: yes. Karr's poems are simple in the sense that they are direct and emotional, just as she advocates. There are none of the obtuse references she shoots down in her essays, and poe ...more

technically speaking, i read all of the poetry in this collection. i just didn't know before picking this book up that i had an essay at the end as a companion piece. yet, considering my knowledge of contemporary american poetry is woefully lacking, i skipped that.

in terms of the poetry, i thought the beginning felt much stronger than the ending. some of my favourite pieces-- "incant against suicide," "the wife of jesus speaks," "requiem for the new year," and "terminus" --felt touchin
Stephen Lamb
Sep 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
Read most of this on a trip to LA to see Michael McDonald playing at the Hollywood Bowl, backed by the Hollywood Bowl orchestra playing a couple of my orchestrations, but it took another trip out here (for a session at Capital Records) for me to make time to read the essay that concluded the book, “Against Decoration.” I liked the poems, but I think I’ll be returning to the essay more often, as it provides good creative food for thought.
Aug 08, 2021 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry
2.5, I think. I enjoyed reading her critical essay at the end. “I wonder if Jarrell would find the highbrow doily-making that passes for art today interesting. I scarcely do, except in the way that an exorcist might find certain demons interesting.”

Publisher's Note: Special thanks are due to David Kirizian of the Department of Herpetology at the American Museum of Natural History for his kindness in helping to arrange the photograph of vipers.
Mindy Rose
May 27, 2019 rated it liked it
poems about life, death, church, jesus fucking someone. i'm not real sure what her deal is as far as religion because there was some, uh, kind of seemingly conflicting shit happening, but she's got some beautiful prose. 3/5. ...more
Jul 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I want to write poetry like Mary Karr.
Theodore Reese
Oct 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry, on-writing
I do not know whether I enjoyed the poems or the essay more. Karr's essay "Against Decoration" is about what I wanted Lerner's "Hatred of Poetry" to be about. ...more
Charles M
Sep 16, 2021 rated it it was amazing
An exceptional collection Well worth rereading
Jul 07, 2021 rated it it was amazing
The reason I picked this up was to check out Karr's essay titled 'Against Decoration'. As someone who's written poetry in a vacuum for almost a decade I often felt that I was doing it wrong; my work rarely conformed to twentieth century standards. But having read Karr's essay I'm seeing that some of my instincts about poetry are shared by others, and that a disconnect may have formed between the genre and everyday readers over the past century.

Mainly, poets have become so focused on dazzling wit
Sep 27, 2008 rated it it was amazing
karr's poetry is super visceral and immediate. she repeatedly concerns her poetry with issues of faith and family... and the consistent threat of danger that these pose.

the poetry is strong and vital, as is the essay "Against Decoration" wherein she rails against poetry that astounds on the surface, but offers no real depth into understanding or into humanity. it is a crazy-brave statement and one which feels totally relevant ten years later.
Jenni Simmons
Apr 21, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Robert Barnett Newman
Shelves: poetry
I agree - so very powerful. I read this book in two days which is a fast poetry read for me.
R.K. Cowles
Sep 07, 2016 rated it liked it
3 1/2 stars
Feb 18, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry
I enjoyed Karr's prose much, much more; her poems just didn't feel as memorable or ambitious. But the afterword essay was lovely. ...more
Nov 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing
The poems seem generic but the essay in the back should be required reading.
Sep 02, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: poetry
God-awful poems. Interesting essay at the end.
rated it it was amazing
Apr 17, 2019
rated it really liked it
Feb 11, 2011
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Mary Karr is an American poet, essayist and memoirist. She rose to fame in 1995 with the publication of her bestselling memoir The Liars' Club. She is the Peck Professor of English Literature at Syracuse University.

Karr was born January 16, 1955, in Groves, a small town in East Texas located in the Port Arthur region, known for its oil refineries and chemical plants, to J. P. and Charlie Marie (Mo

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