I’m Your Huckleberry, by Erika Jo Brown. Brooklyn, New York: Brooklyn Arts Press. 82 pages. $15.95, paper.
My wife wrote a book. A good book. A good book of love poems. Some of them, the poems, aren’t about me. Enough of them are. And a quick glance at the acknowledgements will show you that, even so, this book is for me. I’m the Love the book is “for.” My name is BJ Love. Her name is Erika Jo Brown. And the book is called I’m Your Huckleberry.
My connection to the book, to the poems inside it, is obviously robust. But the fact that we both own the same dog, or frequently bump into each other in the bathroom, isn’t why I love this book. No, I love this book because, finally, someone looked at poems and thought, these should be beautiful and funny and sad and delicious and maybe, just maybe, your mouth should always be as full as your mind.
Contrary to popular belief, buckwheat
is not a wheat at all, but a member of
the rhubarb, rhubarb, peas and carrots
family. Contrary to popular belief, love
is not an emotion but a meaty agenda
with a dash of petite peppery treats.
Like a whipped cream cheese, Brown realizes that poems needn’t be dense to be delightful. Her poems echo those of Elizabeth Bishop (sometimes quite literally, as a highlight of the book is a poem called, “Crusoe in Love”) and Frank O’Hara; lines that are supremely engineered while also appearing to be lyrically dashed off. In this light, it becomes easy to think of the sincerity in the poems as a construct, and to thus begin your search for some motive, some plan the author has for you. But that light is a false light, as Brown desires nothing more nefarious than to be interesting to you, the reader, and taking care to construct is her way of doing that.
If one can ever refer to the act of a poet writing about their own heartache and joy as generous, this is how they would do it: Brown’s poems aren’t filled with the kind of grand gestures we see in movies and in our dreams, instead they are built from the small moments in life, the ones common to all of us. David Byrne once said, “[E]veryday is more relevant than anything too grand because we all have to deal with it. Life tends to be an accumulation of a lot of mundane decisions, which often gets ignored.”
When you’re not here duct tape gets futzed
in my hair and by you, I mean everyone &
I am trying to block the artifacts & bland-
ishments of loss & love & remember
as a kid, all things bright & beautiful
When we read love poems, we don’t become filled with the love the poem aspires to capture, rather what we feel is the lack of that kind of love in our lives. The speaker in Brown’s poems aims to leave you filling full by focusing on the stupid things, the things we all do and usually never think of again. Taking a bite of food. Walking the dog. Watching TV. Or just the small talk we share with strangers. These aren’t inherently profound moments, and yet, these are the foundations upon which Brown erects her linguistic architectures.
After reading these poems, one doesn’t feel apart from the poetry, rather one believes themselves to a part of the poetry. Nothing here is idealized and so we are able to see, witness really, the intrinsic value of minutiae, from snoozing on alarms, to buying organic dates. We aren’t comparing our love to a summer’s day, we are simply seeing what happens if stop and look around for a minute.
This is not a place for grand revelations,
insulated as it is. There is a house,
then a block, then a city, and G-d,
one could get distracted.
And one does get distracted, but before I do any further, I want to be sure to mention just how fun this book is to read … because, well, it is. I’m Your Huckleberry is a logophile’s wet dream come to life. Stuffed with words (some you definitely won’t know), every one of these poems is fun to read aloud. Internal rhyming, alliteration, consonance, assonance, repetition, and plain old regular rhymes, they are all invited to the show and each one takes its turn at the microphone.
Her sleeves slapped in the breeze.
Little wheezes. Her sleeves slapped
like sails. Summer returned. She
sloped down a hill on her bicycle.
One could argue for days about the central purpose of a poem, and it will always be a dumb argument. That said, one does leave this book feeling as though the author’s goal throughout was to write a poem that was unmistakably a poem. There is no attempt here to disguise the machinations of verse, to contain their workings beneath a burnished façade. Yet, the poet does not use those same devices to conceal the utter depths of her own feelings. Like the counterbalances on a Calder mobile, language and emotion swirl around our heads in a kind of wild symmetry that seems ever ready to topple onto us and yet, is benevolent and inviting all the same.
My shadow has been locked for hours in a
furnitureless room, a funless zoom.
Kerbloom. It may’ve sounded more
caustic than I meant it, come back and
The poems here aren’t virtuosic, meaning the work that went into them is apparent and thus able to be appreciated. Writing poems is hard. Writing good poems is even harder. Perhaps most difficult though, is writing good love poems. Somewhere in this murk is the point to it all. The poems and their central concerns are dealt with in comparable ways; love is more interesting when you acknowledge its accompanying despair, and poems are more interesting when you stop trying to hide its artifice behind “art.”
You won’t get lost in reverie with this book, but you will feel pretty good that you just spent the last two hours reading someone else’s poems. Yes, it’s hard for me, Erika Brown’s spouse, to not feel connected to every word, but it’s because after reading, I’m Your Huckleberry, a dozen times, I can still feel the care and thought behind them. I may not know exactly why she chose to say this over that, but when I read these poems, I know she did made a choice. And experiencing that choice doesn’t take me out of the poems, instead it invites me into the process of making them, keeps me an active reader, keeps, rather, the relationship between author and reader continually fresh, always being made anew.
At the beginning of this review I lied to you. I told you what I loved about this book was how its author looked at poems. In fact, what I actually love about this book is how its author uses poems to look at us, to address her readers, to recognize them. This is, after all, entertainment, and even when we’re sad, we should still be allowed some amusement.
Anecdotal digressions, images of nature, are all
just hands reaching out to build your worthpile
(breaching a particular solitude for the bookish
who can’t stop looking at scorpion-shaped light).
See what I mean?
BJ Love is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and he has taught writing for over ten years, most recently with Writers in the Schools in Houston, Texas. He is the author of, Yes, I’m Sure This was a Beautiful Place, a collection of poems written in collaboration with Lucas Pingel and Michigander. Additionally, BJ produces “Pretty LIT,” a podcast that mixes popular music with literature from today and yesterday and has been featured on PRX and The Poetry Foundation. His poems can be found in journals such as Forklift, OH; Sink Review; Pinwheel; Coconut; and H_NGM_N, and his reviews have appeared inCant, The Quarterly Conversation, and The Savannah Morning News.