Collateral Light by Julia Cohen
Brooklyn Arts Press, 2013; 89 pp
Reviewed by Erin Lyndal Martin
In Collateral Light, Julia Cohen struggles with the simultaneous sameness and impermanence of the self. She renders these themes through short poems (one or two pages) which include a lot of white space and the unusual choice to occasionally use a span of horizontal white space in place of a line break. At times, the poems themselves are full of imagery so disparate that they read as a list of non sequiturs: “Death is the opposite of dying slowly balloon balloon,” ends one section of “I Stared At Your Camera & Promptly Died.” Despite Cohen’s unique choices in imagery, form, and transitions, enough motifs reappear for the reader to better situate the speaker’s crisis: “& I say to my face in the plate’s glaze / This is the only life I have,” Cohen writes.
Stuck inside an intolerable first-person (“I can’t just sit here with feelings,” she writes in “Someday You’ll Be Replaced By Language & Then Nothing At All”), Cohen finds herself exploring masquerade through her relationships with other people and with language. “I put my face / inside your face,” the title poem opens, one of many references to faces. In “I Carry A Basket for the Fingers That Fall,” Cohen writes: “When I fork this light two bodies / blend into the face you held”, signifying the two people sharing a self via occupying the same face. Language also seems to occupy this need for inhabiting another; “It turns / out language / is the other people,” she writes in “We Clamor We Like The Sound Off.”
The central concerns of selfhood are often hidden beneath disjointed and unexpected imagery, which sometimes leads to a wish for greater continuity. Yet, it is simultaneously refreshing to see Cohen engaging with timeless questions of selfhood in a new vernacular.