Let's just get this out of the way right now: these are some good poems. Like, really, really good poems. If you appreciate good poetry and are not prudish about subject matter, you should read this collection. Period. If you take nothing else away from this review, take away that. The pieces in Love’s Autobiography: The Ends of Love are playful, erotic, insightful, and above all, smart.
First, the language employs some truly masterful wordplay: “whizzdizzyingly,” “hamhamhammers,” “infinite minute,” “briefly eternally.” The majority of the poems are free-verse, but some have structures that suggest classic influences, such as the rondel-like “Francis Drake” and “Jennifer in Two Voices,” with their rhymes and repetitions. (Interestingly, “Jennifer,” at a glance, looks more like a prose-poem.) There are some experimental pieces as well, such as “Savanna,” which does interesting things with capitalization. In fact, “Savanna” made me think there is an encoded message in the poem that I am not smart enough to get, but I had fun trying to figure it out. (If someone else manages to crack it, please inbox me.) The variety of styles is unified by the overarching theme of love and relationships, as well as by Vorhees’ poetic persona (they are all told from a decidedly male POV). And, of course, they are unified by his use of language.
These lines are onomatopoeic, alliterative, and everything in between. I had to read each poem at least twice (not that I’m complaining), just to get at all the richness on offer. As with “Savanna,” each poem feels like a unique puzzle box, a treasure trove. But past the linguistic razzle-dazzle, there’s some real substance here. Vorhees can get right to the point when he needs to, with to-the-bone lines like:
“The ends of love
are but two.”
I am generally not a fan of love/relationship poems simply because they have been done to death. Breakups are almost invariably the muse of every newbie poet with an Instagram account. Love’s Autobiography, however, is the real deal: stunningly original, ardent, innovative, and borne of decades of experience, (both as a writer and as a lover). These poems explore both the literal and metaphorical crevices of love: sex, marriage, beginnings and endings, the stale and the exciting.
Normally, if a poetry collection has even one poem that really knocks my socks off, I am probably going to give it a five-star review. To me, poetry collections are like albums. I’ll buy the whole thing just to listen to my favorite song over and over. But with this collection, I can hardly choose a favorite. The poems are divided into sections, so it’s easier for me to choose favorite sections, (Beth and Jenny), but “Don’t Get Me Wrong” is a strong contender for a favorite. “Atoll” is also delightful.
My favorite aspect in this collection, though, is the way Vorhees marries nature and man, and the historical with the modern. Herein, you will find: Francis Drake, Bedouins, bees, farmers, mushrooms, Solzhenitsyn, Bubbas with pickup trucks, highways, hotels, gods, butchers, Eskimos, Einstein, atoms, jizzum, and even the occasional flash of mysticism (the Zodiac and geomancy). These poems are both cynical and romantic. “Don’t Get Me Wrong” likens a lover’s smile to a swastika, her closed eyes to “tiny Chinese twats.” I find these contrasts to be utterly fitting for the message: Love is ancient. Love is eternal. Love is a collision. Love is nourishment. Love is a glorious mess. Love is a wound we keep inflicting on ourselves. These poems, like love, make me want to come back for more.
Purchase Love's Autobiography: The Ends of Love on Amazon.
Check out Duane Vorhees' site dedicated to literature and other creative arts: Duane's PoeTree Blog.