by Emily Kendal Frey
Octopus Books, 2014
92 pages / $12.00 buy from Octopus Books
1. I read Sorrow Arrow in June.
2. “What was the last book you read/what was your favourite, lately?” A friend of mine who was out of town for the summer sent me this text message. I told her it was Sorrow Arrow by Emily Kendal Frey. When she got back into town a few months later I loaned it to her.
3. If you’re like me, once a year or so, you read a book that makes you rethink the way you’ve been writing entirely and you come away from it sure beyond a shadow of a doubt that the only way to write is the way that writer does it.
4. Sorrow Arrow was one of those books. When I was finished with it I just felt the entirety of all the poetry I’d ever written pass into obsolescence.
5. My first exposure to Emily Kendal Frey was when we both had prose poems published in Issue 6 of Banango Street in January. I felt privately certain they only published my poem because it was a prose poem roughly the same length as hers and together the two felt like they were kin somehow — cousins of about the same age who look just like each other but only met for the first time in their late teens. Hers was the more successful cousin by far.
6. I added her on Facebook and a few weeks later she posted as a status the sentence “She is born!” and the book’s cover, a faceless blankness wrapped in a green wreath, whirling, encircling sheaves of grass.
7. Two weeks later she posted that the book was available for order and I ordered it immediately.
8. Here is one of the poems: “A radiation plume is making its way to us/We write it down so we won’t think/Lap dogs sprinkled with acid snow/I got on the plane and sat back/Out the window I regretted complaining/I’m sorry I wasn’t able to get inside your color/The sky was cobalt, deafening/I die so I can live/Outside category” (p. 57)
9. At the centre of Sorrow Arrow is a tragedy. There is a tragedy at the centre of every great book of poetry, I imagine.
10. Frey’s tragedy runs through the poems—none of which have titles—like a skein of gold, a vein you can see just beneath the skin, a tungsten wire that glows bright and hot to the touch.
11. The title-less poems feel less like poems sometimes than collections of objects, an accidentally beautiful picture of a haphazard strewing of broken things on the ground.
12. Only later do you realize the haphazardness was calculated, that the beauty wasn’t accidental.
13. There are no periods in Sorrow Arrow.
14. Strawberries and dogs are recurring characters.
15. A period is an artificial end. A period is the illusion of control.
16. Frey’s speaker is experiencing a continuous, beautiful, terrifying lack of control—in the Madrid airport, at the lakeside, camping, in the morning, crossing the street, sitting in a car with the book’s persistent you. There are no periods in Sorrow Arrow.
17. The poems begin and end without warning. There are no guidelines or handrails. You piece it together, bit by bit.
18. Here is another one of the poems: “I called my grandmother but she didn’t pick up/A stretch of silver trees/He’s dead, I thought to myself, in bed/I got so sad I remembered being high in high school/How we pretended to be mummies, arms by our sides/Or chiefs of forgotten villages” (p. 17)
19. The heart of Sorrow Arrow is a loss, an absence, but the body of Sorrow Arrow is a contemporary America bloated with unkind details.
20. “There’s an astounding amount of puke on city sidewalks” (p. 16) and “White people who think feelings are interesting” (p. 21) and “We buy so many things” (p. 23) and “Our whole lives we’re going to be metal towers rising out of the wasteland” (p. 42) and “Trash gilding the roadside bramble” (p. 44) and “Another article about bees dying off” (p. 50) and “The second to last train stop overlooks a metal yard” (p. 54) and “A poisonous gas cruises the continent” (p. 68).
21. The tonal register of Sorrow Arrow is a mishmash of words that feel lifted from conversation and words that feel lifted from dreams. “The first person you loved will die/Their ass will be gone/All of your cats will die and their arrow jaws will break” (p. 22).
22. “If you’re in love you have structure” (p. 18) and “When you loved me I was a flame in a boat” (p. 16).
23. If you’ve forgotten the exact particulars of what it’s like to be consumed by a love,Sorrow Arrow will remind you, the way a leaking faucet in the night reminds you of something you forgot to do earlier in the day.
23. Here is another one of the poems: “When I kissed the bundle/Of your mouth/Nothing came to the surface/That’s how god works/Perched on your shoulder like a limp bird” (p. 34)
24. A few days after I’d loaned it to her I asked my friend if I could have the book back. “I didn’t bring it today because rain got to it through my bag so I’m going to get you a new copy and keep that one,” she replied. “Which is cool because I’d probably end up buying it anyways.” And then: “Actually, it wasn’t the rain. It was my tears. My arrows of sorrow.”
25. For a second, I believed her.