-Poems Reviewed by Kendra Bartell

Interrobang, Jessica Piazza’s debut collection, is a work gripped with obsessions. Each poem is either titled after a fear or love of something: Melophobia (fear of music). Asthenophobia (fear of weakness). Clithrophilia (love of being enclosed). Achluophilia (love of darkness). Almost every poem takes the form of a sonnet, but there is also a pantoum and ghazal. The choice to write in form, the epitome of linguistic and syntactic control, accentuates the central motifs of the book. The poems wrap themselves in layers of neuroticism: emphasizing sound, and tempo, thereby directing the reader’s annunciation of each line.

The collection delivers a vision of a splintered self. The (I) of one poem is inconsistent and suggests either multiple entities or personalities that shift, grow, multiply and fracture throughout the text. This technique enhances the connection between reader and speaker. In “Caligynephobia (fear of a beautiful woman)” for example, the speaker says “I carry who/I used to be/inside my heart,/a sleight of hurt,” prompting readers to recall scenes from their own past. Taken together the poems have the essence of a carnival hall of mirrors: the (I) encountered in one poem suddenly morphs into another form or is replaced by another reflection.

The poems’ titles serve as tiny keys that readers can utilize to unlock the mystery presented within the tight unit of the sonnet. Oftentimes, the speaker is presenting an image of the fear or love but at a slant. Take, for example, these lines from “Theophobia (fear of God):”

Amass no mass. I am the God I’ve known:
untaken turns unwrecking what wasn’t;
a cricket’s ticket punched when I crushed it.

At times, the title fear (or love) is contradicted by the content of the poem. Are readers supposed to fear the self-God the speaker presents, the image of a crushed cricket? Or is there a sense of pleasure in controlling one’s destiny? The speaker challenges the idea of God but then presents a puzzle rich with sonic qualities. Piazza tends to leave her quandaries up to the reader, and it is difficult but intriguing to try and pin down her poetic intentions.

The standout feature of Piazza’s poetry is undoubtedly her control of sound. Piazza has a trained ear, and readers will enjoy the beautiful images and emotions embedded in her rolling verse. She has an innate ability to form iambic pentameter lines that are subtle enough to not hammer themselves into your ear, but are strong enough to carry you pleasantly through the poems.

The red, the blue, the streak of orange stripe—
they’re everywhere; so, too, are sound and scent
and still, if all were still the air would pipe
its tactile breath nonstop like bakeries’ bent
street fans wafting out exhaust of bread at us
each morning, as we passed on 23rd.

These lines, taken from “Prolific” convey all the variations of meter and syntax that combine to create melodies throughout the collection. The force carrying each of the lines forward is subtle yet undeniable, and a quality ever present in each of the poems in Interrobang. Many form driven poets grapple with the challenge of maintaining a contemporary style and voice that doesn’t transport readers  back to Shakespeare’s time. Piazza, however, masterfully slips in rhyme schemes and measures of scenery that assert her voice and consciousness of the modern epoch of which she is a part.

Interrobang is an incredible ride sonically: Piazza includes alliteration, slant rhyme, and sonic echoes in each poem, creating a tight-knit unit that draws readers. At times, however, the syntax and rhetorical moves of the poems echo and become overwhelming. In a collection of such visually uniform poems, that feeling can drown out the pleasure of Piazza’s language. Readers are advised to spend time with only a few poems at a time. Let the voice sink in before reading more of the collection. That way, each poem’s revelation (or understated revelation) can hit full force.


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