Our Emotions Get Carried Away Beyond Us
by Danielle Cadena Deulen
Barrow Street Press, 2015; 90 pp
Reviewed by Michael Levan
Danielle Cadena Deulen’s Barrow Street Press Poetry Prize-winning Our Emotions Get Carried Away Beyond Us does more than borrow its title from Montaigne. The collection is an affirmation of the essayist’s belief that “There is no wish more natural than the wish to know.”
The book’s core is born from Deulen’s curiosity, her penchant to look at all sides of an object or a thought, the concrete and the abstract, in order that she might discern as precisely as possible what there is to know. Nothing is left unquestioned or untested. It’s why the title poem can begin with a discussion of Pythagoreans’ steadfast belief in the universe’s rational nature, its Music of the Spheres, and lead into the speaker’s memory of leaving an abusive relationship, and then back out to the mathematikoi, all in the service of both them and the poem’s I finally recognizing that the world lacks order. Strangely enough, these kinds of moments aren’t cause for alarm. They’ve been reasoned out so sharply that we’re left not with despair but a realistic understanding of how the world works, which is an odd but comforting gift.
The book’s lengthy, demanding meditations are balanced by shorter, lyrically driven poems, which retain much of the same inquisitiveness but operate with a more focused lens. “In Movies, The Future,” for example, echoes Blade Runner as the speaker attempts to understand
the difference between the real
human and the one whose skin
is synthetic, whose heart
works in a low whir until
the hero stabs them and finds
instead of blood, a white froth….
Although the poem’s end reveals the truth about what’s manufactured versus what’s real, we still take solace in knowing an answer exists, even if it may not be the one we want. The book doesn’t always take us to places where we’ll be at ease, but it does help us to appreciate that as we search for answers to our questions, we engage in perhaps the most human and natural of all quests.