What Other Choice by Jeremy Halinen
I first met Jeremy Halinen when he was a student and already quite a precocious poet. His first book fulfills that precocity by translating precious blood into grit, acuity into startling reconciliation, and Love's taut and tender lineaments into lines sinewed and sweet as sweat and a tinge beyond ripened fruit. This is the queer poetry I've been waiting for, one in which two boys realizing their first touch-ful recognitions become "the ark they'd been // waiting for" "before their newfound / fortune could be called trespass // or transgression. / They are not alone." ("A Brief History of Heavy Petting") The poems recall for me the poised scope of Kenny Fries' poetry and are as every bit as clean and sharp in their pronunciation.
Halinen's poems, transgressive without apology, trespassing all oppressive and regressive determinations, reach beyond themselves, in a way, as Halinen's skill, subtly and convincingly builds them with a O'Hara-like force, and with an Objectivist detachment. Blood. Fists. Shit. Funerals. Rape. Boyfriends made love to at split-rail fences in memory of Matthew Shepard. Dying "at the hands of men / who hold hands with women / and guns." ("Earth") That detachment is not clinical, but rather a torch that then burns brightly lighting the cave walls upon which Halinen writes. It's a shaman's trick. You think you are feeling from an intellectual position, and then a Halinen poem strikes: So many days I crawled to you / for I love you or I love you with a hug / and, perhaps, a fuck, but hope / is a home I can't live in. ("Sugar")
These are poems in which the poet's "body's weird movement, / this slither" ("Estranged") engage the reader to acceptance and embrace. Pain is the path, and a ferocious look is more than just a gaze into the mirror of self, but rather a dissection under microscope and pen of the tortuous fulfillment of desire and submission. Redemptive.
The man beside me
in the bed said
he loved me, but
I didn't believe him
Until he let me
fuck the hole in
("A Brief History of Touch")
Most impressive in these poems is Halinen's willingness to let it be. To let confusion and conflict reign—the poet alive in a world of reasoned irrationality, lust, and merge: But there have been too many / answers—and none right. Thunder // seemed answer, lightning / question, but maybe both were both at once. ("Bromide")