Feelings by Lauren Ireland
Trembling Pillow Press 2018; 102 pp
Reviewed by Zack Anderson
William Basinski’s 2003 record Melancholia opens with a sparkle of metallic bird sounds which settle into an eerie minor key loop, four notes wavering up a staircase to nowhere. Basinski constructed the album from an archive of tape loops that yielded The Disintegration Loops, now mythically spliced with the trauma of 9/11. From the cover image of a cassette tape to its formal constraints, Lauren Ireland’s new collection Feelings also moves in loops set in motion by a brutal equation in the opening poem: “Beauty is insane insanity is divine / divinity is violence violence is beauty I am yours.”
Ireland’s formal choices intensify the affective impact of the book by creating tension between accumulation and erasure. The poems in Feelings are consistently short—most fewer than ten lines—and marked by unsettling gaps in the typography, giving the reader the dual sense that the speaker is under narcosis or that information is redacted by an outside force. Each poem is titled with a date and location. At first glance, this choice suggests a diaristic reading of the text. However, although the month and day progress linearly, the year does not. Occasionally, the record skips, such as the five iterations of October 10. As a result, Feelings takes on an iterative, palimpsestic quality. Days are written over, the text becomes an almanac, revealing the lacunae of the calendar counterbalanced with the weight of accumulation.
These patterns of repetition and erasure also contribute to a gothic current which allows ghostly presences to intrude into the text. Much of the book is framed as an address to a “you” whose referent migrates between the reader, a husband-figure, and a more sinister third party. The poems circulate around trauma, approached obliquely through lines like “Those were not my husband’s hands. Why / isn’t there a word for this: the rape / of sleep lost history of my body the grey horror / the ragged web of pre-dawn the not-knowing.” These lost histories gesture toward the uncanny reiterative nature of trauma, as well as a sense of melancholia as a loop of unresolved mourning. In other poems, the unutterable trauma takes the form of marriage as a gothic institution comparable to Emily Dickinson’s gravelike domestic spaces: “Marriage. / What am I going to do. My chest a cold room / with no people in it.”
In response to the patriarchal violence that suffuses the book, the speaker emphasizes the affinity between feelings and poetry: both are excessive, both forms of unproductive expenditure, both genres of protest in their lack of capitalist use-value. “I don’t know what to do with all this / grief. Put it in a poem I guess,” Ireland writes in “May 16 2014 Seattle.” Grief becomes a form of protest against a patriarchal capitalist structure, or as Jeff Clark notes, “Faire grève (to go on strike) and to grieve (mourn) are thus ultimately etymologically connected.” However, the success of this affective revolt is left undecided. Feelings’ closing lines leave the reader in the paradoxically closed yet open space of the loop, where the narrative resolves, only to start over at the beginning:
Impermanence death doesn’t really mean it.
I’ll be back soon maybe not like this
but I’ll be back