Jessica Piazza. Red Hen Press, $17.95 paperback (72p) ISBN: 978-1-59709-722-2
Painful and totally lacking in grace to the person undergoing it, the individuation process is a necessity nonetheless; it’s inevitable, anyhow, and the only way out, or through, is to keep on keeping on, hopefully discovering what (if not who) we are, along the way. This phase of life happens to just about everyone sooner or later, but that never seems to reassure anybody: instead it dwarfs us in our own commonness, in the difficulty of not knowing where we are, and where we’re going – or maybe of knowing all too well. Altogether the experience can make the lone soul feel like a dim speck in the vastness of intergalactic space. Jessica Piazza’s first collection Interrobang deals with the fragmentation of identity head-on, and makes a virtue of it, by observing a prescribed, arbitrary set of formal strictures that serves to limit, direct and focus the author’s energies. It’s an enjoyable read.
The concluding couplet from the book’s opening poem “Melophobia” evokes an open condition that amounts to a dilemma:
Sing into a conch and you’ll sound like yourself.
Sing into a conch and you’ll sound like the sea.
For all their rousing rhythm, these lines propose the composition of the book as a problem, the spiritual predicament its author had to write her way out of – a semiconscious self-identification with nature that’s known as the pathetic fallacy, a refuge from one’s fellow human beings, untenable. Other poems restate this difficulty as a systemic flaw in perception:
furious fog hiding the highest peaks of a bridge inside her coat (“Heresyphilia”)
that storm […] sang […] and fled / too frantically (“Kopophobia”)
Like me, the tree’s worst weakness is its hollow. (“Asthenophobia”)
When human relationships enter the picture, the players possess the chameleon karma of anyplace they happen to be at the moment, as in “Kopophobia,” where a dying romance between two tourists blends in with the ruins they’re visiting as sightseers: