Timothy Liu wrote the most beautiful homage/obituary for poet Linda Gregg, published in The New York Times (“Linda Gregg, Poet of Taut, Vivid Verse, Is Dead at 76,” March 27, 2019) and Plume (“My Own Private Parthenon,” Issue #93, May 2019). Look these up if you have not read them. Let your tears flow, but not only for Gregg, who is known for her “chiseled in marble” poems, but for Liu, whose language explores the ruins of these, also a very serious poet; yet different, a very tongue-in-cheek poet. I imagine him exploring various surfaces and various crevices with his tongue, letting it slide and ride and taste all life has to offer. He does this in his latest book of poems, Let It Ride. He takes us to scenes exploring the aftermath of ecstasies of the body in low-brow and high-brow places, in City Mouse and Country Mouse places. Liu is a poet who rides in both places and steps back to let us also see the scene.
Liu’s aching is what this book is “about.” His quiet observation of gestures and non-gestures spells out the way he yearns for lovers and loves either departed or just about to depart or ones who are not emotionally available. This is a little from his poem, “Ars Poetica” where we watch lovers negotiate power and the dynamics of power play in small, yet dramatic scenes. This is very reminiscent of Gregg’s tension, too:
It’s not the smoking I miss
but his mouth reciting
verses in between taking
deep swigs. The water bottle
might have tipped me off”
What do these small gestures say, what do they predict in the outcome of lust and love? Are they the heart of the matter?
In “The Unsaid,” Liu writes in couplets, as he does in many poem in Let It Ride, with an extra hanging line that acts as a private space/comment before the next couplet, a very satisfying movement when writing about love and lovemaking, because we are brought along with him. We are not abandoned. It is in this space that we discover the humor and humanity in the tender, the brutal, the visceral, and the mundane:
hard to forget—secret
passwords left on my body
the neighbors can’t hose off.”
If it is enough to merely strike up a momentary friendship or one which lasts a lifetime, the effect of their disappearances are lasting and permanent in these poems. It becomes more and more difficult to look at what is missing, what and who is absent, but this is where these poems place their gaze. In “Romance,” Liu shows us the magical realism embodied in a steak, rare, sitting on a plate between two lovers at a restaurant. We see that everything is alive in Liu’s poetic scenes as it is in Gregg’s work. We see that we are not alone because our attention is therefore full of love as well and everything is speaking to us; not only the lover, but the food, and the future through our hunger.
*Thanks to The Anti-Languorous Project for informing the shape of this review!
Let It Ride by Timothy Liu. Saturnalia Books, 2019.
Reviewer bio: Susan Kay Anderson has work forthcoming in Madness Muse Press, Sleet Magazine, and Hot Coffee Press. She is the author of Mezzanine, published by Finishing Line Press in 2019. Finishing Line Press will also publish Please Plant This Book Coast To Coast in 2021, Virginia Brautigan Aste’s memoir.
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