“A Z-hearted Guide to Heartache” Charley Barnes (V. Press) – poetry review

BARNES_CHARLEY_A Z-HEARTED GUIDE TO HEARTACHE_V Press“A pocket-sized guide to hurting yourself” sets the tone,

“Step One: Fall in love with someone
who doesn’t know how to love you back.
Tell yourself that they don’t actually lack
the ability to love you, so much as the desire to.
Learn that you are unlovable.

Step Two: Stay with that person.”

It continues to Step Six with suggestions to return to Step Two. It feels like a good friend offering advice over a warming coffee with tissues to hand. That may seem cosy but, like all good friends, it doesn’t shy away from acknowledging the part “you” played in things going wrong. “On trying to not conjure an ex-lover” is a ‘don’t go back to your ex poem,

“and two glasses of wine, by then I’m not saying his name,
I’m chanting it in front of my television,
in the hope that he might manifest post-watershed.
Not that I’d care even if he did,
Every three times, I look over my shoulder”

“A Z-hearted Guide to Heartache” isn’t just a gentle wallow in post-heartbreak territory, “#AmIPrettyYet” looks at trying to get back on your feet and move out of the house again and starts

“When I upload a selfie, captioned: ‘feeling a little vain’,
what I’m really trying to do is ascertain how many strangers
find me fuckable enough for me to leave the house today.’

One poem, although making an important point, feels out of synch with the theme and subject of most of the poems. “An apology for not looking disabled,”

“Elders forgive my disability for wrapping itself around
my central nervous system; forgive it for being broken
down into an acronym that isn’t well-known enough
to be considered a mainstream health condition.
I’m of the hipster generation; I need my malfunction
to be something that most doctors don’t recognise.”

It makes a vital point and is a good poem but doesn’t sit as well as, “Food is an important part of any relationship – Part Three”

“You take my medical history in your stride,
but when my knee buckles again for the fourth dip that day,
I wobble, and the garlic bread I’m carrying
wavers on the paper plate,
heroically, you reach out – to catch the garlic bread.

You’re brave enough to battle a broken nervous system,
but the thought of food wastage has you rushing scared.
Thank you for being there to save my side order.”

The situations appear specific to a certain relationship (even if not real or an amalgam of more than one relationship) yet illustrate scenarios that are universally recognisable. The poems lack self-pity and display a wry humour. They show compassion and capture a contemporary twenty-something navigating her start in life.

“A Z-hearted Guide to Heartache” is available from V. Press.

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