Love, An Index tells a beautiful and heartbreaking story, and at the heart of it is some of the most original and interesting poetry that I’ve come across in a long time.
Once I attended a poetry reading, in which one of the host professor-poets rambled on about how unique the reading poet’s voice was. The professor-poet said that if you write poems about your dead grandmother, you shouldn’t be writing poetry. I realized that this line of thinking was pretty common in the poetry community: cliches like that mean you aren’t really serious about the art.
One particular subject gets ragged on rather often, as it is most likely the most common theme in poetry throughout history: love. It has been around for millennia, and won’t be going away any time soon, and is enjoyed by even the staunchest of poetry haters. Love poetry is often seen as the fodder for Hallmark or middle school notebooks; but this doesn’t mean it can’t also be serious, beautiful poetry.
Rebecca Lindenberg’s Love, An Index is the first book in the exciting new poetry series from McSweeney’s. I don’t usually comment on the physical look of books that I review (as they are usually quite bland) but this gorgeous, hardcover book is truly a work of art in itself. The physicality of a book doesn’t alter my perception of the work itself, but it increases my excitement to read it.
Lindenberg started writing this book while living with poet Craig Arnold and his son in Rome in 2006 and finished in 2009, not long after Arnold disappeared while hiking in Japan. It’s this juxtaposition that carries this book, the balance of the happiness of her memories mixed with the pain of her loss. In an interview with McSweeney’s, Ms. Lindenberg said, “Elegy takes our attachment and desire and longing and sublimates it into song.”
The poems in Love, An Index are stuffed with emotions, but even the most extreme shifts are seamless and beautiful. But these tone changes aren’t the most jarring parts of the book; Lindenberg employs a wide range of forms for her poems, from the title poem to a similar form that takes the shape of a footnote.
14. Feeling is a way of knowing what you’re going to think about something. Example: I felt the thought, I could want you. Emotion as premonotion. It is a mystery. It is the ideal form of beauty.
Though most of these radical forms work extremely well, some leave a bit to be desired and feel as if Lindenberg is trying a bit too hard to be inventive. The twin poems, “The Language of Flowers” and “The Language of Flowers, Revised” probably make all the sense in the world to the author, but a person (like myself) with limited flower knowledge is left scratching his head. For example, while I have a very distinct vision of roses, I have no idea what an Eglantine or Mullein is and cannot really understand the juxtaposition between many of the flower names and their accompanying verses.
A few of the poems utilize forms that didn’t really impress me, but the language within them were enough to keep me hanging on. The “Status Update” poems, for example, were just mashups of lines resembling Facebook statuses, which is hardly original–but the story within and beauty of those lines redeemed the poems for me.
The title poem that is at the heart of the collection ties it all together, showing off Lindenberg’s language skills while continuing to roar with the emotional fire that the author exhibits throughout. It is styled just as it sounds, as an index, using words and short, pithy lines that connect to each other only by their alphabetical brethren. They are styled as definitions for each word chosen, and many of them have multiple “definitions” after them that are usually wildly different. These lines are often succinct and beautiful, giving little insights into the speaker’s life by way of story or metaphor. From “P”
Personism, I cannot pick up the telephone
and call you, so I write you poems
Tranquility, another things you gave me that I didn’t have before,
and I am losing it again.
Zephyr, the other wind. Not the mistral
but the green-faced wind
with its cheeks puffed out. the stir
of tablecloths, sundresses, curls.
The messenger of spring.
Love, An Index tells a beautiful and heartbreaking story, and at the heart of it is some of the most original and interesting poetry that I’ve come across in a long time. McSweeney’s couldn’t have picked a more perfect book to kick off their Poetry Series; this book elicits the unique qualities of the organizations while also staying true to the heart of poetry. One of the poems near the end of the book, “Aubade,” truly exhibits the ethos of the author and what I think she wants to say with this collection. It feels final, enduring:
I woke in a gold dress,
you, in jeans.
wine bottles in the kitchen.
Fine mica glitter
of fish scales and salt.
Outside, it was quite.
You said: That went well,
don’t you think?
Sun behind you
I kissed the hole in the light
and said: Yes.
Rebecca Lindenberg takes many traditional poetic tropes and manages to make them fresh, yet still authentic. This collection impressed upon me deeply with artistic brilliance and emotional urgency, two things that contemporary poetry is often lacking. I look forward to Ms. Lindenberg’s future work, as well as the next volumes in the McSweeney’s Poetry Series.