Damaged Goods Press
Reviewed by Clara B. Jones
How do we cope with and recover from the insanity of infatuation? This is the question addressed by the young poet, Alaina Symanovich, in her chapbook, Fortune, edited by Caseyrenée Lopez, publisher of Damaged Goods Press whose website describes it as “a micro-press specializing in queer/trans poetry and flash fiction chapbooks” celebrating the “beauty and terror of queer life.” Queer and lesbian literature have, most commonly been expressed via the genres, historical fiction, science fiction, fantasy, horror, and romance, though queer and lesbian writers are among past and contemporary high-profile poets (for example, Gertrude Stein, Audre Lorde, Maggie Nelson, Eileen Myles, Nikki Giovanni, Mary Oliver). In her fiction, Symanovich has described her early persona as a “boyish girl,” perhaps a precursor to identification as a lesbian, and, in one of her short stories, she mentions her father’s interest in the supernatural, possibly, explaining the author’s fascination with Tarot (Fortune-telling).
Indeed, in attempting to come to terms with a failed relationship, Symanovich organizes her series of poems as a game modeled on a deck of Taro cards. The cover of Fortune represents l’étoile tarot, card CVII (#17) of a deck, associated with Ganymede, a “divine hero” named for Jupiter’s 7th moon. As one of her devices, the author’s final poem appears on page 17, and many hours might be spent researching Tarot numerology in relation to the positions and page numbers of Symanovich’s poems. For example, a Tarot deck comprises four suits and 4 face cards which sum to 14, the number of poems in the author’s book. Symanovich’s text is a verbal and numerical (quantitative?) game that can be analyzed as a whole or in separate pieces. “The Fool” is the trump card in a Tarot deck. The author’s “fool”, a scarecrow described on page 7 in the poem, “Glitter”, is a figure with whom the poem’s female narrator (presumably, the author), identifies. Interestingly, by the end of her text, the narrator appears to triumph over, to “trump,” an abusive object of desire whose gender identification is ambiguous (possibly, a transgender male, a bisexual, a lesbian, or a hetero-normative female). In this poem, and, throughout the book, the narrator’s voice is passive, suggesting that she views herself as a victim, as stated in the poem, “Relief,” on page 8: “I was always in respect, deferential, stepping back/half-lit silhouette./.” Reflecting a concern with inequality, Taro card #8 is “Power.” In the poem, “Retrograde,” on page 9, the narrator acknowledges her subordinance to the unattainable object (“Your reign is stronger.”), another sign of her feelings of powerlessness.
On pages 10 (“Winter”) and 11 (“Quarantine”), the desired object is revealed to manifest a psycho-dermatological pathology, and the infatuation is characterized as crazed. Indeed, the narrator is metaphorically bleeding, possibly, a symbol of physical damage, emotional and spiritual suffering, and/or menstruation (the word “blood” occurs in several poems). On page 12, “Supernatural,” the narrator states, “I dammed away the truth about you.”, referencing the unconscious, a Freudianesque marker of Surrealism, the apparent literary root of Symanovich’s poems. Though a poem should speak for itself, consistent with classical standards, the author’s contrivances seduce, even, require, the reader to play games with her in a search for meaning. These highly lyrical poems threaten to be overwhelmed by their complex structures. However, the narratives in Fortune can be understood as “innovations on the lyric,” as the critic, Linda Russo, has stated about other female poets’ work. Russo points out that lyric allows a writer to examine gender, community, and/or personal intimacies, a fitting concept for Symanovich’s use of the forms in her book. See, for example, the author’s use of last lines to reference first lines of subsequent poems, highlighting images and language for the reader as well as linking poems to one another—intimate acts.
I do not know which female poets have influenced Symanovich’s practice. However, her narratives were reminiscent of Mary Oliver’s, “The Uses Of Sorrow” (Thirst, 2006). Oliver wrote: “(In my sleep I dreamed this poem)/Someone I love once gave me/A box full of darkness./It took me years to understand/That this, too, was a gift./” Similarly, in her final poem, “Fantasy” (page 17), Symanovich “envisioned a new freedom,” though she characterizes herself as being in a dream-state. She, suggests, then, that she remains embedded in myth rather than reality, and one wonders whether the narrator-author has moved beyond victimization or powerlessness. Certainly, Symanovich’s narrator remains self-conscious and full of anxiety. Her poems are personal narratives, and radical feminists and political queers would suggest that her [homo-]normative (binary?) view of relationships requires expansion to the political realm. In future work, for example, Symanovich might consider viewing her themes through the lens of Patriarchy, an institutional arrangement that radical feminists hold accountable for female suffering (e.g., depression, marginalization, power asymmetries). Notwithstanding these reservations, Fortune deserves a wide audience as testimony of one young poet’s attempt to understand intimacy, to recover from pain, and to achieve agency.
Clara B. Jones is a retired scientist, currently practicing poetry in Asheville, NC. Her poems, reviews, essays, and interviews have appeared or are forthcoming in many venues, and Clara’s collection, Ferguson And Other Satirical Poems About Race, won the 2015 Bitchin’ Kitsch Chapbook Competition, available at amazon.com.