Review of HURRY HOME HONEY: LOVE POEMS 1994-2004 by Sawako Nakayasu

Published by Burning Deck / 2009.

Review by David Perry

Love poems? Of course you do. That’s why you’re IT, the human hockey puck from “Ice event: for 14 performers and one audience member.” Or maybe you don’t and you’re not. Maybe you’re the “angry man” who takes leave of his constipated woman, just as she is having a longish bout with her bowels while reading about the shipwreck of the Admiral Graf Spee and wondering vaguely if there are really people out there who “enjoy the smell of their own excrement.” Or perhaps you’re still not sure: You’re the ambivalent “I” of the (slightly shaggy) Franco-Cali-Steinian “Language barrier,” wandering between continents “with French dogpoo on your shoe,” wondering whom you prefer (dogs or men) and whether you might be in a movie (“One dog shoots some shit and this is a Western”).

Hurry Home Honey—a hat trick of a book, consisting of two previously published chapbooks, Balconic and Clutch: hockey love letters, and a third series, Crime to be quick—is a collection of prose poems, conceptual (sports) writing, poets theater, sound-as-sense associative riffing and artfully cracked lyrics that are cumulatively:

                                                   Not unlike


                                                                                     on a crowded train


                                                                         then you

                                                                                                                               (“Hockey on the 20 m2 balcony”)

Throughout, love declares itself in registers alternately serious and playful, rueful and eager, personal to the point of a luminous opacity and “universal” to the point of transparent tongue-in-cheekiness, as Nakayasu’s language runs through the long oddness of being the one in six billion who is, was and/or will be in love with some other one-in-six-billion or another, replaying the experience of scanning a roiling crowd in hope of laying eyes on a missed or missing lover as time runs out on a last chance (imagined or actual) whose in-the-moment high drama is as likely to mellow over time into bemusement as it is to crystallize into enduring heartache.

Balconic is a serial meditation on the balcony as a liminal space that is both inside and out, closet and stage—and, of course, timeworn romantic mise-en-scène in which the irreducibly subjective experience of love continues to irrupt anew, even among the most jaded of us. The series is preceded by a TOC/index poem driven by the phrase “having been given” that gestures towards Balconic’s 15 existing poems as well as others that do not appear, effectively pointing at lack as the negative ground necessary for the experience of presence.

“Door #3,” the penultimate poem in the series, deftly traces by way of a speed-meditation on balconyness the shape of a love affair tethered to “…our first balcony on the tenth floor, the balcony from where we watched the orange lights light the campus in that horrid orange way as only orange light can, that balcony where we waited out my first dryer cycle and the balcony where we waited no we didn’t wait my second dryer cycle because I put my coins in the wrong machine . . . .” This set of romantic subjective particularities emerges from a blur of more abstract, Platonic and ironic considerations of “the balconic balcony the balconian balcony the balconesque balcony the poeticized balcony the fully committed balcony” before collapsing (though not without some hope of return).

Clutch further pursues speed, crowds, performance and collapse (once one loses speed or collides with another). Nakayasu played amateur hockey around the time of writing Clutch, and her joy in the game takes this series beyond the conceptual play of Balconic to a more concrete space, one in which bracketed segments of fragmented verse both visually evoke “puck” and in their rhythm reproduce the alternation between smooth grace and the disjointed, violent motion typical of a game of dekes, checks and slapshots:

                                            [   ] altercate minute
                                                                  degloved vs. fragility
                                            enter who—on the board
                                                      join or immensify, leaving it up to
                                                                          [with] [whistle]

“Puck” fragments stand between longer prose poems and lyrics that perform the wonderfully unlikely role of being part of the greatest hockey serial love poem we have, climaxing in the aforementioned “Ice event,” in which IT, the audience member installed in a huge hollow puck, is subjected to a game presided over by a Perverted Referee in which one player is a disguised Person of Motherly Concern tasked with the impossible job of protecting IT from harm as the real players do with IT what hockey players do. As conceptual theater (staged once to date) Clutch lends a lightness and sophistication to Hurry Home that Balconic hints at and which the final series, Crime to be quick, brings to fullness.

Crime shows off Nakayasu’s serious quirkiness across a range of forms, but it is here that the slowest pieces propel Hurry Home from very good to remarkable. “Everybody’s breaking point,” “Hurry home honey,” and a brace of shorter prose poems drive this pillow (fight) book into near-allegorical narrative space where “love poems” begins to feel like a welcome command issued by Poetry itself. By the end, one may find oneself one among a strange group of obsessive collectors (books, flowers, booze) drawn to the shores of an “odd-figured lake” in “Everybody’s breaking point,” a tale that centers on a man dedicated to a project essential in its uselessness as failed love affairs or poems: “One day he will run the Boston marathon in one single breath, and all of us who have ever been to that lake will cheer him on, throwing our books and flowers and booze at him as he whizzes by oh-so-very quickly.” Love poems? Toss something you love at Nakayasu (if you can catch her).