Recently, I’ve wanted to expand my consumption of poetry books because I desire to write with a bit of poetic flare and maybe more importantly I want to live with more poetic conviction. I picked up this book adding poetry into my reading rotation. From Libby and from a couple of public libraries I picked up a number of poetry books without too much regard to who the author was. I just wanted to read poetry. One book I found was TAKING THE ARROW OUT OF THE HEART by Alice Walker, a second book I picked up was CALL US WHAT WE CARRY by Amanda Gorman and another one I stumbled on was this one – I WOULD LEAVE ME IF I COULD by Halsey.
After I began reading the book I asked myself the question “Who is Halsey?” I probably should have asked myself this question before I began my reading journey but better late than never. The cover of the book is striking who cares who the author was. The shapes and images drew me in. I noticed the use of the eyes in a number of places which suggested to me the poems would enter my eyes and probe my soul. This image wraps around the spine and back of the book which caused me to sit down on the floor in the middle of an isolated isle of the library which filled the air with the smell of old dusty books and stared curiously. After letting my eyes linger on the image for I an amount of time I do not know, I finally rose to my feet and headed to my favorite chair in the back of the library to chew on the goodies I guessed would be in this book. My hunt for a book was over. I sat and opened myself to what Pat Conroy said in, MY READING LIFE (a review of this book to come), “Even today, I hunt for the fabulous books that will change me utterly.” I was ready to be utterly changed by this book just like every book I read. But, I still did not know who Halsey was.
Even though I have the Pat Conroy expectation with every book I read, some books make my veins run dry due to my inability to connect with them. These poems did, in fact, make me come alive. So many of the poems I read struck me deep in my experience. I walked into the library with family happenings causing me to be more sensitive than normal. Ok, I must admit, for two hours of reading these poems I wept so much I had to sit the book down and walk to the library’s front desk to ask for a tissue to dry my eyes and nose. Her poems covering topics which connected with me most included: sex, relationships, self image.
In the middle of the tears and the reading, I looked up many of Halsey’s songs and found her songs to be intriguing — well written. Although they aren’t songs I listen to normally I can understand why so many people listen to her music. Below you may find one of her songs. Please be aware the lyrics may be explicit.
If you listen closely to her lyrics, it’s easy to conclude that she’s a one of a kind writer. I assume she wrote the lyrics of her songs herself because her poems sing out similar to her songs.
I will discuss a few of the poems which cling to me to this day:
The vulnerability in Halsey’s poems show how poetic form can uniquely connect with readers in areas we’d like to sweep under the rug. Take the poem entitled “Onanism.” This poem breathes sensual into the life and mind and heart of the reader. She uses everyday imagery to help us to imagine her being intimate with herself in various settings and through various methods. With exquisite use of indirect language before you know it her courage to recount her self love caused the temperature of my blood to rise leading me to reflect on my very own experiences and imagine experiences of others.
Halsey uses narrative poetry to convey a heart wrenching tale. At her aunt’s abode there was a painter who lived upstairs. He was a quirky man who painted certain types of art. Her aunt hung a painting in the house which intrigued the speaker, a young lady, causing the speaker to gaze at it for hours. The speaker began to gain internet in the artist and his living quarters where the art’s magic lit up canvas. She began to paint paintings of her own and finally he invited her up to his room. He, a more seasoned man, took advantage of her. Then she discovered the artist took advantage of her cousin too in the same way he did her. This is the same cousin who warned her not to go up to his room. We discovered his simple instructions for her never to go to the artist’s room were warnings; warnings she never heeded. The narrative force of this poem and the poetic flare makes the reader feel what the children must have felt. Also, it made me want to protect my children and every child I know from people who mean them harm. Great bit of writing.
“Bad Day” 1-3
After 15-20 poems Halsey intersperses poems titled, “Bad Day 1,” “Bad Day 2,” and “Bad Day 3.” The way she interspersed the bad day poems throughout the collection made it feel like bad days actually feel for me. Every day is not a bad day but they do come periodically and they come unexpectedly. This bit of unexpected repetition added joy to reading about someone’s bad day, not to mention the types of bad days in her poetry I could relate to. The creatively of the poetic strategy helped to carry me to the next verse. And when I encountered another “Bad Day” poem it made me feel like I was meeting up at a bar to have a drink with an old homie.
“I Would Leave Me if I Could”
Another striking poem bore the title of the book. Just the idea of me leaving myself moves me emotionally. I’ve felt like wanting to leave myself at times in my life but never had the insight Halsey has to articulate it so vividly. I have lived in ways which have not made my mama proud, I’ve been selfish father and husband, I’ve let people down. For these reasons, I understand the desire to want to leave one’s self behind. For me this poem helped me to see when I want to leave myself I’m just having a common human emotion.
The acknowledgement of life’s difficulties is important for dealing with life’s difficulties. Halsey gives voice to the joys we can find in the difficulty. She does not treat difficulty as if it’s too much to bear but she does recognize the difficulty as it is — difficult. Our difficulties do not typically sink us but they do cause us to ask ourself “I wonder. What would it be like if I were to sink?”