Gephyromania by TC Tolbert

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Consider your body a work in progress, a starting point rather than a finished product. Imagine how it would feel to go from here to where you might end up. Touch your body like it belongs to someone else; forgive it the lie it told you about inevitability.

TC Tolbert is weird, but in the way your older sister brother’s best friend is weird. Weird and interesting. Weird and cool. Weird and different. This difference is something that Tolbert revels in, both thematically and linguistically, the experimentation crossing the lines of form as well as function. The act of crossing, of moving between, is the driving ragged force of this collection.

Gephyromania is the addiction or obsession with bridges. Don’t ask so much what this addiction is, but how it feels: that obsessive dizziness, the joy, the agony. Then consider a bridge, a means of getting from here to there, which is neither here nor there. Reading Gephyromania is an education in being stuck between two mirrors, watching the back of your head disappear into infinity. A mirror that can’t be trusted to show how things really are.


The pace throughout the collection is frantic, with unclear breaks between poems. Roughly it’s arranged in five parts: three longer poems, front and back, printed horizontally rather than vertically, and two sections of shorter poems. It can be read as much as a continuing narrative as a series of shorter journeys, and somehow manages to incorporate more than the sum of its parts, allowing us to make our way over and through the boundaries of the very self. Consider “Elegy,” one of the shortest poems at two lines:

I am so not myself (sometimes) I look at her.
And we are never equal to the break that we bring.

Tolbert proves that sometimes less is more. Sometimes, less is in fact most, and this division in time never equals a division in attention. Instead, the smaller the poem, the more densely packed the ideas, and you go away pulling splinters of words out of your skin for days. We are never equal to the break that we bring. We are never equal.

Pronouns, as you may expect for a gender-queer poet, are a mutable art, and this creates a gray space of meaning which can be occasionally mystifying to navigate. Tolbert is both he and she, the lover and beloved, fighting against gender, the person in the mirror, the world, the absolute limitations of language, but is done so with a particular kind of grace. The poet stands tall, his/her chin lifted up proudly to talk about life and love, the lessons that have been taught by the past, the hopes of the future.

In “Crossing,” this wordlessness is a tender address to the feeling of a lover’s arms, marveling at the inability to articulate something so vital:

When you hold me there are words for that.
I do not remember the words for that but I remember that there are words.
There are not words for when you do not hold me.
I remember that there are no words in the world so I say them.

Tolbert is continually innovative with his/her use of language and space, and as an exploration of the mutability of identity, this is something that makes my fingers tingle. The same can be said of punctuation, where periods and commas are often interchangeable, and sentence structures are then upended. The same can be said about poems such as “On Minimalization,” which demonstrate the absolute power of lists—the ability to compare and contrast, to show the interplay between seemingly contrasting ideas. Things get a little bit weird, and yet the weirdness is dressed up so cleverly that it starts to look a lot like normal.

TC TolbertJackson Pollock once said that every good painter paints what he is, and this is the shine that sits over Tolbert’s writing. The moments where Gephyromania reaches its most impressive heights are in the instances when s/he revels in the comparison between the unlikeliest mates, in the moments that exist in multitudes rather than singularities.


what was an avalanche played a fawn and did it cleanly.
how I worship your weather. my many mouths and their injuries,
come this way. and this way, and your periphrastic, your handing me row.

please, darling, and the teeth in my nether-regions.

let that it be visible and sooner: the theory of perilous and the pleasure
of a boot coming down. If there was a philosophy of intimate
that could shame you. I holy cleavage. and of subjunctive, I holy this.

The violence and tenderness walk hand in hand, the wrenching apart is circular. Pleasure and peril are merely different sides of the same coin. Tolbert is a poet whose voice is singular and honest. S/he shines a bright light on a corner of the world and provides a space for a reader to sit, to witness, to see. In “Thaw,” Tolbert says I could thank you. You stay with me. Like grass. I could thank Tolbert, for opening the doors and allowing me in. These are poems that linger for days, and give up more on each reread. Gephyromania is a collection which stays with you. Like grass.

Charlie Atkinson is a Yorkshire-born poet and academic who lives in London. She is a doctoral candidate in Creative Writing at Goldsmiths University, where her project is a novel-in-verse. Her poetry can be found in publications like Agenda, websites such as Poet & Geek, and in several anthologies. More from this author →