Until now, the only wrestling poetry book of note was Lanny Poffo’s Wrestling With Rhyme. That’s changed with The Dead Wrestler Elegies, of which to say it is a different prospect would be an understatement.
Each of Kaneko’s poems centres on a particular wrestler who is now deceased, some simply because they came from a bygone era, but all too many because they passed away prematurely.
But in the same way as the Vince McMahon-Steve Austin feud is so often explained as a reflection to allow fans to live vicariously and work off their own frustrations as an employee, the poems here are not purely about the wrestling business. Instead there’s a common theme in which the poems serve as a way to frame Kaneko’s memories of his childhood and his relationship with his parents. By the accounts here, his mother left the family, with wrestling viewing one of the ways the abandoned father and son bonded in the aftermath.
Exactly how much of the detail of Kaneko’s own life related here is genuine is impossible to tell, and the way the wrestling he watched parallelled his own experiences is often so neat as to arouse suspicion. But just as with how wrestling’s storylines and reality are so often blurred, what is and isn’t true is not the point of the book.
Hardcore wrestling fans will certainly appreciate the level of detail that shows Kaneko certainly know his stuff: references such as those to the Stanislaus Zbyszko doublecross of Wayne Munn, or Sherri Martel’s spell as Honky Tony Man valet Peggy Sue make clear this is not the work of an outsider coming fresh to the wrestling world.
Many of those who come to this book primarily from the perspective of a wrestling fan rather than a poetry lover (the two, while not being mutually exclusive, possibly occupying a narrow slice of Venn diagram) may be surprised by the style. The arrangement of neat, even-length lines and sections is almost entirely for visual effect, with the content often made up of lengthy sentences that are closer to prose at times.
Perhaps the most appealing element of the collection to wrestling fans, beyond the mere nature of the subject matter, will be the section where each poem is introduced by a transcript of a notable wrestling promo, with Kaneko’s following words echoing the phraseology and themes of the promo. The promos appear to have been picked for their suitability to the poem’s subject matter rather than being those regarded as the best in wrestling terms, but it would be interesting to see Kaneko develop this approach to offer his takes on, for example, an Austin 3:16 or Dusty Rhodes’ Hard Times.
Perhaps appropriately for poetry, whether this will appeal to wrestling book devotees may depend on the prior conceptions they bring to the table. Those who find it hard to imagine enjoying a wrestling poetry book will likely find that assumption correct. For those for whom poetry is an enticing prospect, the inclusion of a familiar subject will certainly enhance the experience.
Thanks to Curbside Splendor Publishing for supplying a review copy.