23 July 2009

Journal of Lovesickness, Vol. 11 by Steve Price

Journal of Lovesickness, Vol. 11 by Steve Price Burnside Review Press, 2009 24 pages, $5 Reviewed by Mary Ellen Geer When you first pick it up, this chapbook looks a little spartan--plain gray cover with black type, no author photo or blurbs on the back. But how can you not love the title--“Journal of Lovesickness, Vol. 11”--and especially the subtitle--“Advances in the Poetry of Heartbreak”--and the small drawing on the front, which looks like the logo of a medical journal at first glance but when examined closely appears to be the figure of a man playing a harp. I’m not usually a fan of prose poems, but the 24 poems in this book soon drew me in with their rapid-paced language and surrealistic images. The speaker is in love (all the poems are addressed to “you”), but it’s a difficult love affair with many frustrations--perhaps because, as the poet says in “Live & Learn,” “I gave you my life before I lived it.” Here’s an example of the quirky but compelling language this poet uses, from the poem “No Bail”: “I’ve been charged with threatening to love you. They put me in a cell filled with tiger lilies and Tom Jones playing over and over. . . . Gary brought me a harp and I’ve gotten pretty good at it. They asked if I had any remorse, and when I said no, they ordered me to disperse my emotions instead of unloading them all on one person. . . . This is a letter I’m not allowed to send you.” Or this wonderful sequence from “The Space You Asked For”: “I just want to do something right. . . . You back away, fall backwards over a pile of beer cans and squash a chuckwalla. Your deranged neighbor’s daughter watches it not die, and I would gladly trade places with it. I know, I have no business being in your hemisphere.” These prose poems are short--a quarter or a third of a page--but each one has a manic energy and a surrealistic yet coherent series of images and events. And there are moments of tenderness and optimism too--things get a little better as the book goes on: “I am yawning, and as I stretch I stretch in your direction, getting one pulse of a fingertip closer”; “Next time I hug you, I will not let you get away.” In the closing poem, the poet imagines his lover and his old car being “comfortable with one another, like old friends.” But this is far from a sentimental book--I would characterize the tone as one of fascinating weirdness. I wish this chapbook had a table of contents--the titles of the poems are interesting and resonant, and it would be good to see them all listed on one page. But that’s a minor point. This book carries you along in the current of its language, and it’s well worth picking up.