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Interrobang Paperback – August 1, 2013
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Jessica Piazza’s brilliantly conceived debut collection, Interrobang, is a stunning sequence of (primarily) sonnets that unfolds with both a mature formal acuity and a profound philosophical sophistication. It is an absolute tour de force. These poems emerge as reflections of a kaleidoscopic self as they interrogate those fears and desires that drive and haunt us. Whatever the answers might be to these exclamatory questions, the speaker of these beautiful and troubling poems knows she has only one response available to herto continue regardless, and to persevere.”
David St. John
Jessica Piazza leaps fully-armed from the head (and heady tradition) of linguistic-trickster poets like Father Hopkins and Heather McHugh. Interrobang hits the ground running, lobbing bolts of syntactical lightning, taking the reader hostage to the most dazzling radical harmoniesa word-music that shakes us awake, powers new insightsstands us on the very edge of a rock n’ roll minefield, waving a white flag. We give in! We got it! This is great poetry!”
What an ear, here! Jessica Piazza’s poems are such etched, alive word sculptures, crystal prism poems of love and longing and punch.”
Jessica Piazza is an heir of Hopkins, a poet engaging generously in metaphysical struggle. In this unusually deft book, she sets out to offer her voice on the altar of iambic pentameter and shares the fears she encounters there with quirky, firm metrical dexterity and breathtakingly succinct wit. Interrobang is a serious accomplishment.”
Interrobang thrums gorgeouslyeach page is full-throated and sexy. It’s a yearning yo-yo, a gemlike cutting through our loves and fears. It is a book rabid with life. Piazza’s razor-sharp collection weaves and knots the unknowable with a jubilance and wit too rare in contemporary poetry. Interrobang is fantastic debut collection.”
Alex Lemon, author of Happy: A Memoir and Fancy Beasts
Many of these poems are brave and sensuous, and it’s refreshing to see Piazza capturing not so much her shifting emotions as her understanding of them Promising work from a writer worth watching.”
Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal
About the Author
Top customer reviews
Perhaps most impressively, Ms. Piazza has a rigorous approach to form, crafting poems that are rhythmically and metrically amazing, where so many "modern" poets won't or don't. And the truth is, with language that caresses at times like classical sonnets and at other times hits like rap, the perfection of form and meter can almost be taken for granted (but shouldn't!).
All in all, this is an impressive, beautiful, and beautifully honest volume of poetry.
This poem is stunning, in the way so many of Piazza’s poems are stunning—they are imagistic, rhythmic, and (perhaps most importantly) internally aware of the changes that inhabit their space, and that inhabit the larger arch of the collection. Because of this, there is an implied conversation that occurs between these poems, drawing attention to the discrepancies that are projected onto the persona or the situation that surrounds her. These discrepancies have very little to do with unreliability or lack of attention to detail; rather, they reflect the impermanence of our humanly situations, as well as the potential falseness of our memories. Much of this collection operates around the complex concept of transformation, which opens doors to, both, longing and our own limitations.
Piazza’s poems are complex and require great and consistent effort to gain access. For instance, the first five lines of this poem operated strictly as a series of images for me—until I reached the sixth line, “each morning, as we passed on 23rd.” The simplicity of this detail, placing the persona and this male other on 23rd Street, recast that previous series of images as memories of landmarks along that stretch. This sort of shift in access to images and information is a constant, both in this poem and many others; it represents an opening up that occurs between the persona and the reader, particularly in a poem such as this one, when the final line of one sonnet is revised as the first line in the next, displaying some new truth to the story developed across the “Profilic” series.
What became the most daring and the most telling to me, however, were the lines:
. . . And if they can erase
a city with nostalgia’s sight—replace
the truth with things they loved—I wonder what
my own imperfect eye could substitute.
This final sentiment in the second-to-last sonnet—“I wonder what / my own imperfect eye could substitute”—seems to function as the central question in this poem, regarding the impermanence of our surroundings, the unreliability of memory, and even the concept of substitution, which may or may not work in our favor. When looking at all of these concepts, it can all be pared down to memory. What’s fascinating about memory as the central concept, here, is how the memory transforms how we view the world, and our relationship to it, and how it is always evolving:
. . . We walked the floor
of gum coating the ground, built toss by toss;
. . . It calmed me: a world built
of what’s beneath it, never done, the silt
foot-pounded down by countless hurried feet.
Though these lines are in reference to the Street itself, it also suggests something greater about memory: how our memory is hardly one large map of instances, but rather is a complex layering of references, reminders and transformed understanding. This idea relates to the larger connection, as well, and the instances in which one image transfigures into another—“a tree where raised / wires ought to be”—or is transposed onto another—“still there / in afterimages, a shadow where / a statue stood.” Both of these possibilities (though one relates specifically to the falseness of memory and the other to the afterimage, or transposing, of memory) further emphasize the impermanence of our surroundings and the longevity of memory, however untrue or changing.
Perhaps this suggests something about longing, as well. Often, in these poems, I find the use of memory and the transformation of an image, to relate specifically to a wanting back in, looking for a door that will allow us back into a shared space with a person or object, in the hope that they are the same as we left them. In the second-to-last sonnet, the persona reflects on the absence of one particular man over all others, and these reflections are recast into a meditational longing for what once was there, in the same place and in the same condition. This is a desire I believe we all experience at one time or another—a longing to return to something, or to have that something returned to us, in the here-and-now, somehow unchanged and lacking the memory of ever having been absent. A longing for a lack of change, even. However, we are constantly reminded as readers of this impossibility, due to the constant-flux that occurs in the persona, in the landscape, and in other accompanying figures. We are challenged to understand the demands of change; when one thing changes, it changes everything else, however minimally; and there is no way to regain that object in an unchanged state while remaining in our present. We have to choose; we can’t have both.
Though I have focused primarily on “The Prolific,” these sentiments of change, memory and the inclusion of the phobia and philia run deep throughout this collection. I found myself challenged—threatened, even—by the shifts imposed upon the persona and the longing that is so inherent to these poems. This collection threw me back into my own depths, my own grief and fears, and left me cycling-in-place in a way very reflective of the persona: living in the present but longing for things of the past, somehow pairing them together in my mind and losing the realities of what used to be, creating instead an ideology. Perhaps that is why the role of Phobia and the Philia became so important, so remarkable, to me; they not only worked to categorize feelings around loss and longing, but they also represented the positive-negative complication of memory. Sometimes they even functioned as a direct opposition to what is expected—dreading the good memories of something lost, and thriving on the negative, giving us reason to lessen our affection for the lost. Sometimes that’s just how grief works.
Jessica Piazza’s Interrobang is a truly-stunning collection that is, at its deepest, heartfelt and frightening to the core, in the way it opens us up and searches through our most-secret parts, our memories, our emotions. It is an emotionally-challenging collection that is imagistic and rhythmic, and it is highly unforgettable. This is a collection I’ll be thinking about for quite some time, especially as I return to some of those old, harder memories and try to transform them into something new, a poem, a piece, somewhere. The longer I think about it, the more I feel this collection expects that from me, as it will expect from others.