Skip to content

What We’re Reading: Interrobang

2014 March 20
Comments Off on What We’re Reading: Interrobang

What We're Reading

interrobangInterrobang by Jessica Piazza (Red Hen Press; 2013)

One of my favorite lines of poetry is in Sir Philip Sidney’s sonnet 47. It’s the tenth line and, aside from being a perfect line of iambic pentameter, it evokes the struggle of Astrophil to free himself from his love of Stella. The line itself reads: “I may, I must, I can, I will, I do[.]” In the line, the speaker moves from an unsure stance of maybe through to a firm conviction. The joke in the poem comes only two lines later when Stella comes into view and the newfound conviction evaporates in a moment.

In Jessica Piazza’s debut collection of poems composed mainly of sonnets she uses a similar tactic:

[T]onight I’ll disavow these high jinks, hurts, these hells.

(I will? I might.) I must. Such surefire track to lack,

a certain fade to black . . .  Oh fuck it. Holler back.

Piazza revels in the form’s anachronism. Her language is free flowing and contemporary, yet formally precise, employing the same linguistic tricks that mark sonnets written by the masters. Her contemporary flourishes highlight the dated form. Yet, the inverse is also true. Piazza can swing wildly from the contemporary (“Oh fuck it.”) to the archaic: “But love / itself I never deigned to love” she writes in “Panophilia: Love of everything” hearkening to the diction of classic sonnets.

While Piazza is faithful to the forms she has chosen, some of the cleverest moments in the book come at the expense of form. “Asymmetriphobia: Fear of asymmetrical things” reads in full:

Here’s the torment only the warped heart knows:


One side withers.                       The other grows.              And grows.

The look of the poem on the page so beautifully works against the title that you can’t help but applaud Piazza’s cheek. These witty moments are pure sonnet, and as masterfully done as Sidney chucking away his perfect line of iambic pentameter in favor of love in only two short lines. Clearly, Piazza knows her stuff.

Further, she keeps the reader guessing with liberal use of internal rhyme, rather than simply end-rhymed lines:

                        […] submerged in your

tallow. This candle, this window, you

squirm like a minnow, repeat like an

echo, arthritic libido.

Rhymes tumble through Piazza’s lines like marbles in a Plinko set. Her language pulls the reader forward through the poem so that you can read a dozen poems in a matter of a few minutes. Whether this is good or bad is up to each individual reader. I tend to prefer to linger on lines and images in poems, but Piazza’s pace kept me galloping along. I found multiple readings to be the best way to ingest Piazza’s poems. Luckily, they’re just as fun the second and third time through.

The poems have a deep sense of the body, but also a sense of how the body reacts to psychological stimuli. Nearly every poem is titled with a phobia or a philia: “Melophobia: Fear of music,” “Achluophilia: Love of darkness,” “Nephophobia: Fear of clouds,” and so on. “Clithrophilia: Love of being enclosed” opens with the lines,

Like lighter flame in wind, you wind your hand

around the ember of my bending body.

A lover encloses the speaker’s body, and the playful word sounds—lighter/ember; wind/wind—pull the couplet along, hugging the poem to the title. Many of the poems turn on the title, with phobias, naturally, signaling more pensive poems of loss and drama than the sexiness and longing of their philia counterpoints.

Interrobang is Piazza’s debut collection and clearly displays her technical mastery. The poems here are mindful of poetic lineage and don’t go breaking too much new ground, but they do entertain and explore fear and love, those universal themes, well and interestingly. As tied to form as it is, however, the poems are contemporary enough even for readers who prefer their verse libre.

What other writers are working with and against formal constructs in their poetry?