Open Letter to Quiet Light will make readers feel as if they are peering at secret writings meant for the eyes of a lover alone, but these carefully crafted lines somehow transcend the personal to touch everyone who has experienced this kind of consuming, wrenching love.
In these fiercely passionate, devastatingly revealing, sometimes spiritual, and often painful poems, Francesca Lia Block describes in fiery detail the rise and demise of a year-long love affair. Her rich use of language infused with the power of sex and spirit finally paint a transcendent, almost mythic portrait of the way two wounded people—both searching for connection—find each other, collide, and eventually separate. The words seem to bleed onto the page and even the most graphic moments have a devotional quality filled with nuanced expression and unbridled intimacy. (Blurb from Goodreads)
Rating: R, 4 stars
Trigger warnings: Sexual content, miscarriage, cancer
So, as part of my honors thesis, my advisor and I have agreed that I’m to read one book of poetry per week. “Book” is to be defined at my discretion, since obviously I can’t read an entire anthology in a week. Most of these books I likely won’t review, because for whatever reason, I find it really difficult to review poetry. However, Francesca Lia Block is definitely an exception, because I love her work.
I didn’t really take a look at what this collection was about before I selected it. I already owned it, and had been meaning to read it, so it struck me as an obvious choice. I’m glad I picked it, for a variety of reasons. First, the book has a loose (very loose) narrative arc, and my thesis poems are (ideally) going to be based around a narrative. It was really interested to look at a collection of poems that was bound by a cohesive structure while not being as confining as a novel in verse. Something I’m struggling with in my own writing is the idea of balancing between poetry and narrative arc, and Open Letter to Quiet Light made me think about possibly loosening the arc of my collection until it is more implied than told, which is something that I think Block really excelled at in this collection. At all times, I was able to follow the developing relationship without feeling like I was bogged down by the connections between each poem.
At first the book surprised me with it’s sexual content, but I’m really not sure why--it’s not new to me that Block’s writing can be sexually charged, even her poetry (see my reviews of Nymph and Fairy Tales in Electri-City). If you’re already familiar with much of Block’s work (though admittedly more than Weetzie Bat), the sexual content won’t be much of a surprise. For those who are new to Francesca Lia Block, there’s sex, quite a bit of it, in fact.
My one complaint with the collection is that when writing about sex, some words just aren’t poetic, and in certain contexts, they even took me out of the poem a little bit. I’m not exactly sure what she could have done to prevent that besides being less direct, and I did like the directness--so often erotic poetry is wrapped up in innuendo and subtext, and sometimes it’s nice to have everything out in the open. Still, those moments did pull me out of the poetry a little bit.
Un-poetic wording aside, however, I did enjoy this collection. I found myself underlining a lot of particularly enchanting lines or phrases, which is always a sign of love with me and poetry. For fans of Francesca Lia Block, this collection is a must-read.
PS--Sorry for the lack of an update on Wednesday. I’m considering cutting back to one post a week, but hopefully I’ll get a backlog of reviews ready to go soon.