“What’s There Not to Like,
a Man Who Can Carry a Tune and Has a Story to Tell?”:
a Review of Exactly Like Love, by Alan Walowitz
Which of the seven deadly sins are you most drawn to?
Sloth, but I also like some otters.
Favorite color, shape, and constellation?
This is a very boring question.
Exactly Like Love, by Alan Walowitz (Osedax Press, 2016), is a chapbook of twenty-three narrative poems. These highly readable poems work much like fiction in their use of characters, dialogue, and setting. And though they largely stem from the “family and personal history” of their author (as acknowledged in the Author’s Note), they suggest a more public persona than typical autobiographical poems generally do. They suggest (even when not directly evoking) a first-person plural voice, a we rather than merely an I. As we hear from “Establishing Shot”: “we’ve known these people from the ache of having lived.”
The opening poem of the collection, “The Anatomy of Longing,” grows out of a physical exam and introduces both the difficulty and power of naming. The poem opens: “When he looks inside, the doctor tells me I’m fine, / save for a few loose parts even he can’t name.” The speaker of the poem refers to a feeling of being “hollowed out,” of having experienced this feeling in the past, and the doctor replies: “Medicine has no name for this, / but we can call it Longing, if you like.” The poem continues:
He knows I like when things have names,
but it takes too long till names come known.
What’s usually best is just move on, breathe on my own—
We hear similar advice from “The Anniversary Song”: Don’t turn to stare at the wreck; / it only slows traffic, my father would say.”
Several of these poems do indeed occur at the scenes of accident. “Establishing Shot” describes a scene from the French film Les Quatre Cents Coups:
Fragments of bone land blocks away
and streaks of blood on the sidewalk;
bullet holes dot the windows of the shoppes
and restaurants and cafes, and the body bags
with the policemen milling among them.
“The Story of the Milkman” recounts a more personal scene of the death of a milkman at a railroad crossing:
We grabbed our bikes and tore to the crossing,
but it was mostly cleaned up
except the street was closed . . .
We just wanted to look.
The very universe itself seems to be the scene of an accident. According to “Brian Greene Says,” “the universe is more random than we thought,” and is
actually falling apart
atom by atom
as we lie elsewhere watching,
helpless to do anything about it.
Familial relationships, despite their own frailty, are meantime holding this falling-apart-universe together. The title of the collection comes from “Boy Under Ground,” which recalls a music box that once played “Let Me Call You Sweetheart.” Though the box “still [knows] the tune,” the speaker of the poem “[has] overwound it”:
broken forever; it could never be fixed.
I was just a kid and didn’t know much,
but wouldn’t this turn out to be
exactly like love?
Exactly Like Love is the first published collection by Alan Walowitz and the first published chapbook from Osedax Press. The book is a pleasure to hold as well as to read. Its smooth polished cover presents an historical Walowitz family photograph and includes double French flaps. Upon the French flaps is printed a delightful and humorous set of Q & A with the author—very fitting for poems full of conversation and not without humor themselves.
Nettie Farris is the author of Communion (Accents Publishing, 2013), Fat Crayons (Finishing Line Press, 2015), and the micro-chapbook Story (Origami Poems Project, 2016). Her chapbook The Wendy Bird Poems is forthcoming from dancing girl press.