Escape, Robert Lee Brewer's new limited-edition chapbook, talks a lot about love while rarely mentioning the word. Its 22 poems — culled from more than 100 that Brewer says he wrote as part of a project begun in 2010 — follow the release of his first chapbook Enter, which I reviewed here earlier this year.
If Enter is about what happens when we enter into relationships, deliberately or otherwise, Escape shows us where running to and perhaps from particular kinds of relationships can lead us, and how deeply our relationship to love, when we love, can change us. Each poem tells a very short story, rendering love in one of its many permutations and, ultimately, tracing its arc entire.
The mystery that love is, the way it ensnares, requires that you "just change everything, because / everything changes", finds expression in a mere seven lines in "murder & the love curse", the poem that opens the collection and sets the context for all the poems that follow and eventually come full circle. The desperate feeling love can instill — that "clawing at your feet... your nails... your hair... your face... your eyes... your naked lips... your breath... your beating heart... " — as in "we saw a fox last night", speaks to love's power both to control and make us crazy.
Physical love is manifest in the delightful "the way that i can be", where lips might "wait / and wait" until "hands rescue / the whole operation" so that "everything mine brushes against her / everything...." (a little bit of good enjambment there). In "like welcome miracles", it's what makes "the space between us expand / and contract", leading to "a pact to celebrate": "our hands became rockets, our skin became / outer space, and then, lift off and yee-haw!" In such exuberance as love creates, "we saw the space station tonight. it flashed / brighter than a star on the horizon."
But intensity alone, like the shooting star that burns out, cannot contain, may yield "a map but no directions" when relationship is only about escape and lacks sustainable structure, giving rise to fear, as the narrator makes clear in "always at a crossroads" and takes up again in such poems as "the noises that scare us". Still, there's that wanting, to hold on so as not to have to concede loss, and it echoes in the aching lines "i just want to win / all that i can before we reach the end" (from "the end unravels slow") before any possibility can be entertained (as in "bury me when i die") that "i can't see / tomorrow. . . she's got a good lawyer." Brewer's "this is modern living" captures the struggle well:
a last gasp, a quick break. a holding on
for one more day. the end rushes away
from us even as it draws closer. birds
huddle on wires and wait; they circle us
from above like satellites. there must be
a better way to say this, but last night,
i knew you'd already left when we kissed.
The narrative of love running its course continues in "worried about ourselves", wherein "we've finally reached the point at which we / invent reasons to get upset, we cast / spells on ourselves, curse our own conventions" until, somewhat clinically:
[. . .] we transform x into y
and dismiss the existence of z, now
only a letter that signals the end.
I wrote in my earlier review of Enter, "There's a palpable sense of what's missing from the relationship(s) but feeling isn't allowed to get in the way of the telling." In Escape, there's plenty of feeling; emotions rise and fall and range free, and you're invited to read between the lines when the narrator of the moving "i love you, i love you" tells how:
a train whistle fades into evening.
the platform you've been guarding never was
attacked. you thought if you waited, but no,
i never knew, the newspapers covered
it up, because no one reads them any
more. a dog barks at your approach. one more
train forces its way through the night calling
the stars, the moon! calling all that listens.
The finality of the relationship broken, however, is nowhere clearer than in the last poem in the chapbook, "always never sometimes":
[. . . ] i think i
become someone else when i'm not looking.
she tells me she won't be calling again.
If you're interested in owning a copy of Escape, send Brewer an e-mail at robertleebrewer[at]gmail[dot]com; make sure to write I Need an Escape in the subject line. If the edition (of 101) is sold out, find someone who has a copy and borrow it. The poems have a lot more weight than may be apparent on first reading and their accessibility and honest but not world-weary take on love make them a pleasure to take up again and again.
Brewer, senior content editor and poetry columnist for Writer's Digest and editor of the Writer's Digest's annually published resources Poet's Market and Writer's Market, has published poems in Barn Owl Review, Caper Literary Journal, Ghost Ocean Magazine, Hobble Creek Review, MiPOesias, OCHO, Otoliths, and The Smoking Poet. He posts regularly at his popular Poetic Asides blog, where you'll find interviews, writing advice, and poetry prompts, and at the My Name is Not Bob blog. He lives in Duluth, Georgia.
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Robert Lee Brewer on Escape Into Life (March 2, 2010)
2012 Poet's Market
2012 Writer's Market Deluxe Edition