I Love It Through by Alli Warren
Nightboat Books, March 2017
112 pages – SPD
In an effort to preempt the failure to say exactly what Alli Warren’s new book, I Love It Though, undertakes, I let her lead us. The second stanza of the opening poem of the collection, “A Yielding Hole For Light,” reads:
I’m not necessarily not destroyed
by the loon looming on the horizon
you accuse of having no inside
I stand under persimmon and see Frank
and the white bowl, heat machine
beaming luxuriously, ground of everything
ground of light, makes the field wider,
makes hedges fall
Or the courage or not
of me and my friends
orbital in lilt, directive in drink
while container ships brim
and caps and bergs
slope across the slog
I want to be able to continue
to love to stay alive
The epigraph belongs to Gloria Gaynor
the green pervades, it’s a diamond, we all are.
The taste this poem, and Alli’s collection as a whole, leaves in my mouth is one of quiet –indeed, sometimes nearly-silent-to-the-point-of-compliance – resistance. It’s a paradox I’ll let you grapple with, though if you’re a socially and politically conscious human being who experiences daily doses of both subjection and privilege, I think it’s a paradox you know well. This book is not afraid to linger at that disconcerting threshold, and to say its lingering out loud as it does so. The community invoked in the collective “we” of its poems is kept “from just sustenance”; the speaker “ladle[s] in the brothy endurance of subsistence and resistance” and is occasionally “given one hour off leash”–which is, we might presume, the very hour these poems get written. Yet we are periodically given that the speaker has access to alternative ways of being: to “be an accomplice to the flood / or insist on property as my right to white life”; to be “fat / on duck and the ground / up bones of wealth / which feeds me”; to “suc[k] heartily on the teats / and profi[t] off the gaunt / carnal mess.” It’s as though the underlying inquiry I Love It Though softly proposes is: What does resistance look like for one who also possesses the (relatively) privileged option of non-resistance.
Of course the book chooses resistance. In “A Yielding Hole For Light” and elsewhere, it is a resistance that arises first through form/s of attention to the immediate material world: the white bowl, the heat machine, the loons on the horizon. It is a resistance that arises not only from attending to these things, but from allowing the self to be destroyed by them. The poems never neglect the “soldiers spread[ing]” elsewhere, the burning embassies and the monuments falling into fires outside, the groups of boys being stopped-and-frisked, the “gentrified avenues & littered laneways,” the sounds of trains that recall us to how commerce never sleeps, the “endless / intergenerational chain / of patriarchal provision” in the courtroom, in the marketplace. That “All the evil things of the world will have full sway.” Indeed, these things are ineluctable; they regularly enter the world/s of the poems as they regularly enter our daily being/s; they destroy differently, I would say more conspicuously though that neglects every clandestine violence of the political state. To recognize that one can be destroyed through attention to mundane materiality is to de-mundanify the world. It is to disassemble the self in the face of the routine dismantling done to us by force, by social membership or not, by the unbearable facts of nation.
I Love It Though’s is also a resistance that takes the form of longing. The phrase “I want…” is practically the poems’ mantra, so much so that the book takes the shape/s of a series of imagined other worlds: “I want to rub along / the webbing I want nothing but / the cove’s yawning jaw”; “I want to open to remain coming lush adaptive ode I want / to arrange abreast along the marking underbrush and make refrain”; “I want to be absolved of regrets and relieved of nostalgia.” I linger on the word “courage” in “A Yielding Hole” – a word that either repeats in later pages of the book or simply reverberates from the first poem into the others, I don’t know – and consider its root in the Latin cor, heart. There’s Alli, iterating her desire for “the ripe and tender ones” earlier in this poem, while the West Antarctic Ice Sheet collapses in the background of its speaker’s private longing. And yet I’m not entirely sure the private life exists in this book. Alongside the poems’ felt tension in the speaker’s self-interest are the ongoing gestures toward community, the sense that while their desires are grammatically singular and apparently individual, they are practically inclusive. “I speak as a member / in the billfold of our feeling,” Alli writes. And then come the invitations: “let’s ‘slip crosswise / through the grid-structured surveillance’”; “Let’s loot the establishments / I mean feed each other.”
I began this response to Alli’s book on May 1, 2017, as May Day protests in Olympia, in Portland, and elsewhere are declared “riots” by police. I hear Alli claiming “every cop goes poof,” which reads like a declaration but can be no more than a wish voiced for all of us. And it occurs to me that if Alli’s book were a person, it would be out on the street in the midst of the protests–though it would probably not be the one beating the drums and leading the chanting. Rather, it would be brought a little to its knees by the persistence of forms in protest chants, and love, and meter. It would be standing under the Bank of America sign, watching and listening, sometimes “rooting / for him… rooting / for every tender thing / for my sister / and for you.”
There is the temptation to list all the things the “it” of Alli’s title might refer to. It sits beside the temptation to imagine all that must have come between the title’s “though” (conjunction? qualifier?) and its ultimate declaration of love. I’m going to imagine again, reader, that the apparent tension in I Love It Though proffers an affective state of affairs that rings familiar to you. And so I’ll let you speak to it yourselves.