Everyone I Love is a Stranger to Someone
Write Bloody Publishing
The poetry of the disenfranchised is not an uncommon subject: Every day we are inundated with words by people who speak from ignored lands. There is a clichéd concept of writing that I hate: That you must write from a place of great sadness or grief in order for it to be good, accessible, and available to people. I think that’s reductionist; surely many great things have been written about the process of mourning, but what of joy? I’m thinking here of Frank O’Hara, “But what of joy, that comes in darkness embossed by silvery images.” Or perhaps, “We shall have everything we want and there will be no more dying.” There is no disputing the fact that we live in a world full of treachery. But what about the poetry of people who dare to love and desire despite all of the grievous occasions in the world? And even greater still, the poetry that explores the ways in which these two contrasting emotions touch upon each other? It is my great belief that joy and sadness are one in the same, that you can’t have one without the other. Or perhaps exploring that concept even further: one begets the other or at least enhances the other.
Such as the case in Gelman’s Everyone I Love is a Stranger to Someone. The poet’s understanding of the complexities of emotion, and not the oversimplification of them, appears to be the driving force in the script. Isn’t it complexity that is the counter to simplicity? Through seams of physiology, science, the dysphoria of the body, Gelman’s understanding of the intuition of human emotions shine through. In the inundation of the discounted literary world, it is harder and harder to come by. Perhaps this is controversial statement, and I’m not exempt from the snobbery of believing that contemporary poetry lacks the complexity of canonical literature, but I truly feel that this is a conversation that can be enhanced by tradition and individual talent. One area in which the poet excels in this manuscript is in the form of the epistolary poem. She utilizes the letter form in order to create direct addresses to her subjects, which implicates the reader in reading them. What better way to create a crime? And maybe a more comprehensive conversation to talk about the poem as chalk line, as an avenue for recording what once was.
Many, many great writers have done an exceptionally well. But Write Bloody Press is well known for publishing slam poetry, which is sometimes at odds with what we think of when we think of traditional page poetry. I would be remiss not to talk about the form here. The poet has done such an excellent job of distinguishing each poem from the other utilizing form, which has the added vantage of allowing the reader to have an experience of something. Without the performativity of spoken word poetry, the poet has to rely on traditional and skewed ideas of the way that the poem presents on the page—the fragmentation of the line, the use of white and negative space, punctuation, pauses, breath, and meter. Along with the epistolary form, the poet does an exceptional job of using sequenced poetry to illustrate the fragmentation that comes with the fracturing of joy and grief.
In the poem “Six Reconstructive Dreams,” Gelman skillfully plays with the sequencing of narrative, along with the sequencing of the body, in order to demonstrate the ways in which fragmentation informs conversation about personal trauma. “You are thinking lungs / Do not have eyes, but / When a child is born / Her lungs are closed / Before she breathes / For the first time / And spends the rest / Of her life blinking.” Notice hear how the fragmentation of the lines follows the natural syncopated breath, a common tool for performance artists. The line breaks and the use of white space enact the experience of not only breathing, but living as a new thing in the world.
Westhale is a Fulbright-nominated poet, activist, and journalist. She has been awarded residencies from the Vermont Studio Center, Lambda Literary Foundation, Sewanee, Napa Valley, Tin House and Bread Loaf. Her poetry has most recently been published in Adrienne, burntdistrict, Eleven Eleven, Sugar Mule, The East Bay Review, 580 Split, Quarterly West, and PRISM International. She is the 2014 Tomales Bay Poetry Fellow.