Aaron Scobie reviews a collection of poetry that acknowledges our obsession and idolization of the self.

Jeff Alessandrelli, Fur Not Light (Burnside Review Press, 2019), 77 pp.

Fur Not Light is a collection that acknowledges the obsession with, and the idolization and inevitable destruction of, the self. Jeff Alessandrelli explores the minor, inconsequential actions and thoughts of mundane days, and through describing artistic and awfully detailed events, he makes those thoughts and actions have a lasting impact. This beautiful collection, flowing with haunting imagery, asks readers to question whether they view themselves as something divine.

Many of Alessandrelli’s poems wander for pages and drift into strange, specific details and histories, but because every person, noun, and object of desire is allotted so much space and given a name, the bridges between events are able to grow and strengthen. Consider a few stanzas from “Be Yer Own Hitman (Deathsounds/Lovesongs)”:

Like skateboarding down the street
While dribbling a basketball
While listening on your phone
To a TED talk

About the myriad
Gradations of shame,
Them infinitely
Kaleidoscoping levels.

Oh Po-Chu-I, you balding old politician,
What’s the use?
Why parse the particular
Non-particulars of dry mud?

Alessandrelli approaches the reader in a casual way, with a layman’s way of growing and expanding upon the ideas and conversations that he wants to have. In doing this he draws us in, lets us stir the pot too, allowing us to see the emotions on the page without twisting our arm. His poems function in such a way that no one form overtakes the content that is trying to break through.

The book is broken into five sections, bouncing from prose poetry to stubby lines shooting down the page. Many of the poems (like “Nothing of the Month Club”) name-drop commonplace objects, and individuals who are presumably dear to the speaker. We are allowed to view the lives of these people whom we will never meet, and by opening the reader up to their vulnerable states, Alessandrelli gives them agency, if even for just a clause, the lives of these names become real flesh and blood on the page. Here’s an exemplary passage from “Nothing of the Month Club”:

Penelope typed how to fold a burrito so the filling doesn’t fall out into the invisible engine filled with quantifiable numerical codes analytically transformed into linguistically readable searches and how to fold a burrito so the feeling doesn’t fall out appeared on the screen instead.

The approach Alessandrelli pushes toward in poetry is not one of cutting words but of allowing the reader to see a thought expanded upon and pushed to its absolute limit, in an almost maximalist stream of consciousness, thereby making those emotions exist outside of the page.

Fur Not Light’s penultimate section, entitled “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living,” is built around a pictogram taking a selfie. It centers on an extended, 22-page poem that bleeds with the overwhelming anxiety of a person desperate to be acknowledged by anyone or anything in a world that is so full of items, people, ideas, movements and facts – and yet also so much loneliness. The book is lonely; and in this penultimate poem, Alessandrelli is trying to understand that loneliness, by looking at how self-critical thinking reacts with modern societal numbness: what is our obsession with wanting everyone to look at us, individually but also collectively?

The terrible feeling, that we all come to know, is that of distaste and near-hatred borne of the thought that our own bodies and minds might not be enough. The closing poem, “Hope,” features words and clauses that are gently scattered about the page. The majority of the poem – the bits confined by metaphor and subjective language – is crossed out, and Alessandrelli ends everything with “home is how / I want to go back.”

Perhaps the desire to read and write poetry is the search for some answer to, or some understanding of, something that we can’t quite get out of our mental periphery. Perhaps due to the existential dread of wanting to feel holy and not wanting to be selfish or overpowering, we write pages and pages about simply wanting to be looked at. Alessandrelli walks down the multiple avenues that the mirror can show us and succeeds at revealing what that looks like in our modern society: the heartache and the loneliness, all diverging, a delta closing at the eyes.

Aaron Scobie is an MFA student at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, and the poetry editor for the school’s graduate journal, Blue River Review. He spends his days with his wife, Katherine, and their son, Fox.

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