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Allison Titus, The Sum of Every Lost Ship, Cleveland State University Poetry Center, $15.95 (paper)
“Stationed fast to parentheses of sleep and winter,” this debut collection probes the emotion of the (nearly) motionless. The poems are chilled to the bone by a repetitive, immedicable loss reckoned obsessively in the box-shaped stanzas of four poems called “Motel,” in which “We have made a confederacy of meanwhile.” In the long poem “From the Lost Diary of Anna Anderson,” the anonymity of the motel becomes that of the insane asylum. Like the woman who is not the murdered Russian princess, yet who nonetheless recalls her suffering in startling detail—“my sisters tacked jewels into the linings of their petticoats . . . A. screaming / her muffled face in a cushion running from the men”—nobody is anybody in these frozen poems, and nothing belongs, so that, in the final line of “Dead Letter Office,” “What did you keep” is no longer a question. It took me three reads to appreciate the strange litanies of Titus’s verse; their insistent rhythms feel eerily constant despite the formal variety that meets the eye, and the poems are ritualistically precise as they inventory what’s gone missing and what remains. In her lists, the mechanical rubs up against the purportedly animate: power plants, “one bowl of orange root & fennel,” “a mechanism / of spool and hinge” (the heart). Here is lyric brackish with nouns, in which the forlorn “I” struggles to the surface, and the question seems to be whether there is anyone, or anything, capable of feeling adequately—a familiar predicament, rendered here acutely on our deadened pulses.
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But I do miss the hymns, / the small, hard apples with their dimpled skin. I do miss / things.