stephanie roberts’ debut poetry collection, rushes from the river disappointment, oscillates between love and grief through lyrical and musical snapshots of being. I read this collection slowly, reading one or two poems and then needing to sit still as I turned roberts’ gorgeous and aching words over in my head.
The poems in this collection know that love happens, but that accompanying this happening is hurt and grief. How does love retreat into hurt and anger? How do you pull yourself out of hurt and anger and back into love? In “The Woods of Perhaps,” for example, roberts writes: “Then, will you let / this whole forest of hurt love you?” (5). There is no clear answer — love and grief are cyclical and sometimes simultaneous. Love settles in a later poem, “ A Firefly Turns on the Evening’s First Light,” a poem that closes with the lines: “How for your birthday, the day I would be born, / I tried to place my hand in the hollow made for it, the hand that had not fit any stanza right until you” (62).
In “Something Terrible is Going to Happen,” roberts uses fun wordplay that shifts sharply back into grief, a poetic technique that brings a range of reactions and emotions. She writes:
The play between “muster” and “mustard,” as well as the idea of a book of “god awful poems” nestled in a collection of brilliant poetry, brings a moment of laughter. This moment is swiftly changed by the description, “sorrow’s altitude.” The poem is funny, heartbreaking, and captivating as each stanza brings a new turn, a waiting of the “something terrible” the poem’s title introduces.
Mathematics and physics appear across the collection, including equations inserted into the poems. Though in the modern day, literature and poetry might appear to be at odds with equations, both are a form of communication. If abstract concepts such as love and grief can feel impossible to reach through this form of language, then equations offer another way of communication through which we can express what lives inside us.
The poem sequence, “The physics of love and other uncertain phases of the chemistry in Coulomb’s Law” walks through the poetics of physics. The second part of this poem is a prose poem that describes forces of attraction through Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation. roberts writes: “The moon falls fugitive to the earth, the earth to the sun, and I bent and broke over the thieving moon. Physic and love resist the reconciliation of their likeness adding, Yes, and Oh god, to the whatever-span of our postal code” (29). Celestial occurrences in poetry meet laws of physics. As roberts explores throughout this sequence, poetry and poetic narratives emerge as conversations with the laws of physics, despite the outward attempts to suggest otherwise.
With her poetry, roberts has the ability to reach directly to you, the reader. This is a collection full of tender reminders, such as to “[H]ave faith it’s only winter once a year” (76). There are no false assurances that things are okay now, but reminders that times and grief pass eventually. She suggests to “surrender to the general of grief” (87) in the poem “Reasonable Amount of Tenderness.” In these poems, “a lost grip means love with open palms, / and wisdom quenches people burning as bridges” (87).
Reading this collection is like a form of surrender to poetry, to the very heart of language that appears across these pages. Where there is grief, love follows not too far behind.