By Jonelle Walker
It can be hard to find love, but most of us still try. One group of DC poets is going another route entirely, focusing on inanimate objects as love interests.
It’s an unusual approach, but not without precedent in the poetry world. John Keats lovingly contemplated a Grecian Urn. William Carlos Williams considered a red wheelbarrow. Emily Dickinson praised the aesthetics of a balloon. These object become metaphors for individuals, relationships, and parts of the self. The newly published Unrequited: An Anthology of Love Poems about Inanimate Objects dives head first into the legacy of object poems. It’s both a clever play on and light rebuffing of standard poetic conventions.
Unrequited is the result of an open submission contest organized by editor Kelly Ann Jacobson, a local author, poet, and educator. Self-published by Jacobson last month, the anthology will be celebrated at a launch party featuring several of the book’s authors at Upshur Street Books this Friday, June 17th..
All of the poems selected for the book were additionally evaluated by celebrated local poet Sandra Beasley who selected a ‘winner’ and ‘runner up’. “That Last Summer” by Lucia Cherciu was selected the winner and “Lesser Vegetables” by Sass Brown was selected the runner up. Those poems —highlighted in that way as the best of the bunch—leave something to be desired, in part because of their solemn tone and similarity in form. Both poems consist of a series of unrhymed couplets. They are thematically distinct: Cherciu’s poem is a tightly crafted reflection on personal loss while Brown takes a more omniscient perspective on a county fair. Cherciu’s “That Last Summer” has a sophisticated depth to its storytelling but is neither the most memorable or compelling of the anthology.
Several poems taking a confessional lens stood out, not unlike Cherciu’s winning piece. These poems are not so much odes as exhibits exploring how objects intersect with our most intimate moments. Sharon Lask Munson’s poem “Wash, Dry, Put Away” elegantly captures the fractured memory sparked by an object forgotten: “shred of shadows/ a wink, a flicker/ laughter.”
The anthology is organized using categories of objects. Some object categories – like Nature – seem like obvious choices, but others – like Backyard Furniture – are more mysterious.
The most unexpected objects in the more mysterious categories are among the most memorable poems. Amy McLennan’s rhythmic, casual language in “A Large Jar of Kosher Dill Pickles Left on My Front Porch” is endearing and funny: “And by large I mean more,/ I’m talking hippopotamic/ whopping, mammoth/ freakin’ flat out huge.”
The anthology’s flexibility with the central prompt (Love poems for inanimate objects) is worth scrutinizing. Certainly “Nature” and “Cities” are inanimate, but can we rightly call them objects? There is something to be said for the freshness that comes with a loose interpretation of limitations but too much slack with a prompt makes one wonder what a tighter net would have fished.
The poetic diversity in Unrequited makes it a lively departure from similar books by a single author. Ed Perlman’s poem “Coin Silver” is a rewarding study for readers willing to engage with its woven rhyme scheme and typography. The dense minimalism of A.J. Huffman’s cheeky “Ode to McDonald’s French Fries” contrasts with the haiku-like simplicity of Jacquelyn Bengfort’s “Fire Triangle:” “Because the lightning loved the tree./ Because the tree loved the house.”
And then there are the singularly peculiar pieces which outright refuse to align with the rest, like the fun, groovy rock lyrics of Charles Leggett’s “Poly-Esther Blues:” “Well she’s kinda ol’ fashioned/ But she’s great for party-crashin’ Polly-Esther/ (Watch her dance now!)”
Once a reader journeys through the anthology’s first twelve categories, she comes to a final poem in a category of its own. “The Earthbound Hymn” by Bethanie Humphreys is a smart and loving ending to the anthology. “Earthbound Hymn” devotes one stanza to each of the letters of the alphabet, simultaneously giving tribute to the objects described and the elements – the letters — which comprise the proceeding works and all poetry ever written. “Earthbound Hymn” provides a forthright sense of thematic closure for this engaging, speckled collection.
Though the sophistication and success of the poems vary, Unrequited is a charming entry-point for the casual poetry reader and would make a suggestive gift for the unrequited love interest in your own life.
The book launch party this Friday June 18 at Upshur Street Books, details here, is an opportunity to hear several DC residents read and to have your own copy of Unrequited signed by the anthology’s editor.
Jonelle Walker is a 2016 DC Arts Writing Fellow with Day Eight. She is also a Theatre History and Performance Studies masters student at the University of Maryland, a freelance theatre writer, and the Artist-in-Residence and Literary Manager for Blind Pug Arts Collective. She earned her undergraduate degrees in Literature and Theatre Arts from American University in 2013.
This article was produced through the DC Arts Writing Fellowship, a project of the non-profit Day Eight, through funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, Humanities DC, Brink Media, The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, and DCRE Residential. To read additional articles produced through the fellowship visit Artapedia.com (launching June 21, 2016.)