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Jeff Alessandrelli on Lauren Ireland

Lauren Ireland’s The Arrow (Coconut Books, 2014)


“I am not saying anything that bad. / My wrist hurts from masturbating. / The dirty window can keep my goddamned face” are the concluding lines of Lauren Ireland’s “Special,” included in her debut full length collection The Arrow. And emotions and sentiments of the above variety are indicative of the work in the collection as a whole—as such, Ireland’s poetry is largely aimed to prod and provoke. She doesn’t write to please some imaginary reader, nor does she write to invoke some imaginary muse. She isn’t much concerned with notions of “tenure-track” or “conceptual” or “metamodern.” Instead, she writes to expose the tensions of modern day 21st century American life—and, fickle and immense, there are a lot of them.   


Reading through The Arrow one of first noticeable things is the amount of dedications the book contains; 22 of them are included, many of them to the same person in multiple poems. (A good guess is that Molly Dorozenski and Lauren Ireland are close friends.) On the face of it this, then, doesn’t amount to much, and yet thinking through/into these dedications one gets the sense that Ireland is poetically invested in people as much as language. Her poems thus employ the second person “you” fairly often, a “you” that, due to the work’s dedicatory nature, is very rarely the same “you” as the reader. Reading The Arrow front-to-back the immediate temptation is to find this element both problematic and insular; why go to the trouble of publishing a book of poetry with a national press if you can simply send the poem/poems to the person/persons you’re writing them specifically for? And yet rereading the collection—and mulling over the “you” in both the dedicated and undedicated pieces— one is forced to entertain a different insight, namely that Ireland’s personal poetics are, circa 2014, subtly revelatory. It little matters if, while reading The Arrow, one knows or cares to know the aforementioned Dorozenski (10 dedications) or Scott Larner (3 dedications) or Leigh Stein (2 dedications) or various members of the Ireland family (various dedications). In each of the poems dedicated to them they are mere stand-ins for Ireland’s speaker, one that is both combative and contrary. “You are going to remember how cold preserves memory,” Ireland writes in “There Was This One Great Day & It Already Happened” (Larner dedication); in the Dorozenski-dedicated “Satan’s School For Girls,” she asserts:


I was like            I hope you die                        You were like               killing them.

I think your power            comes from            your great beauty

& too much thinking.                        I think my power            comes from                                               

your mouth.                        Driving fast over snowy hills                   I am

wishing for you.            Defacing textbooks            writing your names.

I’m braiding your hair & mine            so you can never leave me       


The “you” in this poem might be, in Ireland’s speaker’s mind, directly influenced by Dorozenski, but for everyone else it’s a “you” that defines the “I” of the poem in far greater detail. “Satan’s School For Girls” speaker believes that “my power                comes from/ your mouth,” insists that, via, “Defacing textbooks              writing your names,” “I am wishing for you.” Ireland’s “you” is Jeffrey Eugenides’ “we” in The Virgin Suicides, is (to a degree at least) Jay McInerney’s “you” in Bright Lights, Big City. It’s a personal pronoun usage that—although directed away from its speaker, at or to someone else—is truly personal while at the same time being voluminous, expansive. “I am large, I contain multitudes,” Walt Whitman writes in “Song of Myself.” “You know, / you are never alone—I don’t mean that/in a kindly way,” Lauren Ireland writes in “Cats.” The comparison is hyperbolic, sure, but Ireland’s own set of multitudes is one that is less self-referential or self-absorbed than a thousand other contemporary American poets. She writes for others as a way of writing for herself as a way of writing for somebody—anybody—else.         


The work in The Arrow certainly has predecessors—contemporarily, Chelsey Minnis and Tina Brown Celona immediately come to mind, as does, drifting a bit further back, early work/collections by Heather McHugh and Bill Knott, even Ed Dorn. Ireland is the type of poet that begins a poem entitled “American Poetry” with the declaration “Fuck off, Jorie Graham,” the type that might write an entire book of letter-poems to Lil Wayne, ones she might actually send to him during one of his not-infrequent periods of incarceration—which is something that she, in fact, did. (See Dear Lil Wayne, Magic Helicopter Press, 2014; “I sent these letters to Lil Wayne during and after his incarceration. He never wrote back.) Within the very same poem her work can be—and often is—callous and tender:


I fucked you right                          through                    the dream catcher…

Resting under the mountain    ancient trade road               I was here.

Tumbled neon grains, oh                        I am beautiful                        under the amber.

rubber                        roses.                          the last of the season.


(from “The Beer Can Museum”)


So when contemporary poetry wants its heart back—wants to forget about fellowships and residencies and arts colonies and gladhands and “aesthetic” posturing and prestigious publications that are less than “public” due to the fact that no one actually reads the work inside of them—it should know where it can find it. Staying warm in a microwave next to a busted blender next to Lauren Ireland’s bucket of beer.  Her poetry in The Arrow and in general teaches that you can’t miss what isn’t gone— at least not yet.



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