In this anthology, Gaskins continuously explores love and relationships, how they work, and how they often fall apart. Every time I review a collection of poetry, I find myself trying to find a line in the collection that sums up the theme. In this one, the line comes from the end of “For James”: “Many poems, (well, ones like this one) /pertain/ to “the one” who certainly wasn’t”.
This is Gaskins’s first collection of poetry, and it comes on strong. The best part is the cycle of eight poems spread throughout the collection with titles that begin with “For” and continue with the name of the speaker’s past love interest. These narrative-style poems tell the stories of love found, used, and lost. Whether it’s through the realigning of perceptions when the speaker steals a book from Barnes & Noble while on a date or through a guy who says he’ll call but doesn’t (“My telephone number has never been changed but it just might as well be”), these poems offer intimate glances into a life littered with complicated loves. Over the course of the assorted poetics, the reader starts to cheer the speaker on, hoping everything works out for him. Nothing, of course, is ever that simple.
A personal favorite from this collection is “Ulterior Motives” that follows the narrator as John buys him things, gives him money, pays his bills, and keeps insisting he wants nothing in return. The narrator, burned by so many others and untrusting due to his past, keeps wondering where the hidden price is. This idea of overanalyzing aspects of relationships, both with friends and lovers, is another theme played out through this collection, appearing in other poems such as “A Blowjob” and “Returning Home Enamored at 4 A.M.”
Christopher Gaskins makes no bones about his subject matter as he swings from rage and paranoia to sadness and searching. These are not tales of love gone wrong, needing to be avenged; they are experiential and thoughtful in a way that simply getting even never can be. His style of poetry is very direct. While eschewing overly florid language in exchange for direct lines that tell a definite story, Gaskins maintains elegant wordplay that dances throughout the collection. A quick pace and a penchant for an alliterative turn of phrase make this collection a quick read.
This book is recommended for any library that collects poetry and for any person who knows that love often has more edges than simply, as Browning put it, “count[ing] the ways.”
Reviewer: Mack Freeman